One day last summer as we were preparing for my dad’s service, I was talking to my sister and she mentioned that she was working on her eulogy. The word threw me. Up until that point, I hadn’t realized —or had forgotten or maybe been in denial — that that’s what we’d been doing. I’d simply been thinking of it as a story about my dad. He made Heaven his home one year ago, so I thought I’d share it again. Here it is, that story about my dad….
For a man who loved words, I feel like there should be one big one to sum him up – a million dollar word to capture the essence of who he was. In fact, I think Huckster WOULD have a word…and I wouldn’t know it – I probably wouldn’t have even heard it before. That often happened with him – he’d use a big word that I didn’t know, and I’d look at him, blankly, or say “What?” To which he’d exasperatedly reply: “Look it up!” So I’d ask “How am I supposed to I look it up when I don’t even know what it is or how to spell it?” Sometimes he’d spell it out – or at least repeat it so I could take a stab. And sometimes he would graciously give me somewhat of a definition so we could carry on our conversation.
And so here I am, reflecting on his life, his character, our memories…and I just do not have a word. So I’ll pick a few to sum up who I think he was, as a man, as a friend and as a dad. Because I think who he was crossed over into every area of his life – with dad, what you saw was what you got. There was no b.s. Simply authentic, genuine Huckster. Take it or leave it. Love it or hate it. He always stayed true to himself.
Dedicated. Dad grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, the son of George & Ethel Hagenbuch, and younger brother of Sunny. His hard work, dedication and commitment to excellence were apparent at an early age. When he was about 9, he delivered the Cleveland News after school. These are his words about that paper route from stories he recorded. “It was running the length twice of two long blocks. As I recall, it took probably an hour to deliver them all. It was always done carefully. Rolled up and put on the porch. I don’t mean thrown at the porch. I mean put on the porch in front. Unless of course it was raining, they got a protective plastic jacket over them.”
He held various other jobs throughout school — like pumping gas and delivering flowers, even in one of the first VW vans to hit the United States in the early 50’s. In 1952, he enrolled in the Navy and always recalled with great pride his adventures aboard the USS Kearsarge and action-packed episodes as a Green Shirt mechanic. In 1961, while on a weekend trip to San Francisco, he crossed paths with Francine Archer, a Pennsylvania girl who’d recently moved out West with friends from nursing school. After that totally sober encounter, he told friends that he’d met the woman he was going to marry. On Friday, July 13th, 1962 he proved he was true to his word and married Fran in front of their friends Bob & Shirley in San Jose. On that day, his wholehearted, unwavering dedication to his family began.
Engaging. Huckster was always up for an informed, lively conversation. He drew you in with his stories, recollections and banter. If you had a differing opinion and could back it up, he was all ears. He valued knowledge, wisdom and deep thought. When he asked why I did something and I replied, “because” he’d say “because is a word, not an answer.” When I would excitedly start a story with “me and Krista….” He’d immediately interrupt “Who?” “me and Krista, “who?” Until I got it right:“Krista and I.” He was fully present, and always looked you in the eye when he talked to you.
When I was in about 6th grade my friends and I were in a Steve Garvey/Steve Yeager Dodger phase. I absolutely despised the New York Yankees’ Reggie Jackson. One night, dad relaxed at the dinner table and I stood next to him, furious and seething about something. To this day, I’m not sure what. I screamed at him with the most anger I’d ever felt, “I HATE YOU.” He sat there unphased, looking straight at me, cool as a cucumber. I held my breath and waited for his reply, ready to be totally busted, grounded, sent to my room, you name it. Calmly he asked: “As much as Reggie Jackson?” It caught me off guard. I didn’t know what to say. I had nothing TO say. Or maybe I even muttered a timid “Yes” as I stormed off. I think I learned then and there that if I were going to engage in verbal warfare with him, I better learn to pack my big guns. Run-of-the-mill, ordinary insults or arguments weren’t going to fly with him. Just like his dad, who was a lawyer, he’d always come armed with his best defense: his quick wit, mental toughness and thick skin. I would need to step things up a notch if I were going to go head-to-head in conversations and disagreements with him.
Consistent. Whether he was wearing cowboy hats or doo-rags, Carhardtt overalls or Levi’s with pockets that hung down to his knees, he was who he was. Never trying to fit a mold. Never trying to do what seemed right – he stood for what he believed in and DID what he believed in, whether it was popular, hip…or not.
Take, for example, his pride and joy — his 1952 Chevy one-ton pick-up. It was a beast of a truck that was usually reserved for country chores, like dump runs or hauling wood. It was pink, oxidized and the paint was peeling off. There was a hole – or two – in the floorboard. Alfalfa sprigs, dirt and dust swirled around the cab. He’d rigged a horn that glowed in the dashboard. The seats were dirty and torn. Krista and I dreaded being seen in it on the rare occasions when Dad would drive it to town. One day, he arrived at El Roble Elementary to pick us up in it. As the engine chugged and sputtered, I was mortified that we had to get in. Krista recalls turning onto First Street and dad waving at someone we knew. “Dad” she pleaded, not wanting any attention or recognition directed our way. If she didn’t like it, he told her, she could “get down on the floor.” So she did. He didn’t care. He honestly did not care what anyone else thought, least of all his daughters. He paid no mind to our superficial objections and grievances. He took pride in that classic old truck and enjoyed driving it around town sometimes. Simple as that. Dad was the very picture of being real and just being yourself – and he illustrated that for us time and time again. It’s the way he lived his life – always holding tight to his convictions, beliefs and principles.
He also believed in US. There was nothing that Krista and I couldn’t do, be or become. He was our biggest cheerleader and our biggest fan. He was generous with praise. Sometimes embarrassingly so. When I was 23-years-old and in small claims court to argue a fender-bender, the judge ruled against me. Despite my photos, facts and diagrams, he backed up what the police report said. Dad couldn’t seem to quite accept that, as he thought I had built an airtight case. As I gathered my stuff to walk out, dad said, “I’m just gonna hang out for a bit, and talk to the Judge….” Always believing. Always seeing the best. Steadfast in his support.
Interested. Dad took a keen interest in everything we did. And more than that, he got involved. He made a memorable, creative impression on whatever he touched. He showed up at birthday parties as the magician El Gropo (and for some reason Krista and I could never figure out why dad always seemed to miss the magic show). He came to our Third grade class to show us how he could channel and bring to life a turkey soul during Thanksgiving. He orchestrated the creation of our Yearbook at Brownell, so that we would learn the process of making one, start to finish. Although just Junior Highers, he trusted us with many responsibilities, and we gained an appreciation for all the hard work required to build lasting memories of our time there. He turned a simple slumber party on the deck into an adventure, as he donned an old, dried-up cow skull to scare the delights out of us. He helped put together a giant slide show finale my Senior Year of high school. He devoted his time to us and to what our interests were, always with enthusiasm and exuberance. Always with a positive, can-do spirit. He loved being a part of whatever we were doing, and he always made time for it. Huckster was devoted to us, our activities, and our interests.
He also taught us about the importance of friendships – gathering around the dinner table, sharing laughter…trips to Pinecrest for canoeing and playing in the snow, camping at Morro Bay, Shasta houseboat trips. Dad valued people and relationships above all else. Since mom and dad’s families were far away, they built relationships with friends who became family.
Eric (aka Mo) and I visited San Francisco with my family about a year after we were married. Frannie, Krista and I dropped dad and Mo off at the waterfront and we headed to the Nutcracker. I turned around to watch them as we drove away: tall, handsome Mo walking and laughing alongside shorter, more robust Huckster. I cherish that image. Afterwards we went to one of our favorite restaurants, Scoma’s. For dessert, dad ordered Frangelico. He savored it as he sipped. When the waiter returned, dad said, “I’d like to order another one, for my son.” He embraced family, even new family, with open arms.
He also loved to meet new people and learn about new places. When I moved to Washington, he’d come up for visits and hop on Bus 255 from Kirkland to explore downtown Seattle by himself. He enjoyed checking out the people, culture and restaurants, and meeting the friends I was making. He stayed up-to-date and interested in what was happening, even when I was two states away.
Loving. Not in an affectionate, huggy, kissy sort of way, but in a loyal, devoted, show-up-when-it-matters kind of way. He also expressed his love in unique ways: one time he hauled his big aluminum Grumman canoe to an open Rec Swim hour and unloaded it in the public swimming pool so he could teach us some important water safety tips (another one of my favorite moments!). Dad always remembered Valentine’s Day. From small gifts to thoughtful cards or See’s candy, he reminded Krista and me that we were his Valentines, the lights of his life, and showered us with love. A pretty special gift for little girls to experience. One time after a visit to the Hershey’s factory, he returned with a little glass kiss and a note that said “Now you’ll always have a kiss from your dad.” He showed up on birthdays with Greenlee’s cakes, starting a wonderful tradition. A more recent birthday tradition, which he carried on with his grandchildren, was to call and sing a Happy Birthday duet with Frannie – I even have Rafton’s last greeting saved. Another generation experiencing Huckster’s love and thoughtfulness.
The last words I shared with Huckster, I think quite fittingly, were written words. On July 13th, my parents’ 49th wedding anniversary, I wrote them a note which my mom read to him. In it, I used an all caps THANK YOU. In part, I thanked them “For showing us what family is, what commitment and dedication are, what wedding vows truly mean and that you never, ever give up”. Three nights later, the night before Dad died, I said a prayer as my son Brody went to sleep. In it, I did an all caps thank you to God. “THANK YOU that you gave me this man as my dad. THANK YOU that I am his daughter.” I then added. “God, you are the author and Huckster is the ultimate storyteller, finish the story as you will.” As it turns out, the story didn’t end as a high-seas action adventure aboard an aircraft carrier. Nor did it involve the intrigue of a top-secret security clearance – or even the drama of a local newspaper columnist. Instead, Huck’s story ended as a beautiful love story. On July 17th, in the early morning hours – when he was at his crispest and most creative – with his bride Frannie by his side, he slipped out, unshaven, for his final walk through the meadow to join Poppy, his parents, Sunny, Gary, Red & Scruffy who went before him…leaving Frannie to sleep peacefully, as a final parting gift. The epitome of a faithful, loving husband.
Dedicated. Engaging. Consistent. Interested. Loving: all these words I’ve shared with you to try to sum up Huckster seem too simple. Too basic. Too ordinary. I can’t leave you with one that’s over the top, that you’ve never heard of, that you need to look up in a dictionary. And maybe that’s the beauty of it. That’s just who he was. Just Huckster. Just dad. I realized when I was down here at the end of June that despite all he’d been through, nothing had changed. He was the same old Huckster. He sat at the kitchen table one afternoon nibbling his lunch, trying to complain about how his fingers didn’t work that well anymore. I said, “That’s funny – it looks like they’re working just fine delivering the KFC chicken wings to your mouth”. Just Huckster. Just dad. Until the day he died. And I was – and always will be – just a girl who loves her dad.