My father, Albert Ernest Paschkis, died at the end of September at the age of 94.
He was born in Berlin in 1928. His family left Germany in 1933 to escape the rising power of Hitler. They lived in Italy, Switzerland and Holland before coming to the USA in 1938. He spoke 5 languages when he was 10 years old!
He arrived in New York City and saw CARS everywhere. For the rest of his life he loved cars.
He became a mechanical engineer. He had a long work life where he invented test and measurement devices and solved all kinds of problems. He built things and fixed things at work.
And he built things and fixed things at home – including the house we grew up in. He was often making things in his basement workshop, or fixing the cars. Everyone around knew they could turn to him for help.
In 2008 my sister Janet wrote a book about him called Albert the Fix-It Man.
In the book Albert is part of a community. He is never too busy or too tired to help anyone.
In the late 1980’s my father designed a studio/addition to my house. He came out and built it together with my husband, friends and with me. I sat in that studio and illustrated this book. I am sitting in it now writing this blog!
There were similarities and differences between real Albert and the character Albert. In the book Albert is short, bearded and almost roly-poly.
In real life he was tall and thin.
In the book he ended every day with a bowl of corn flakes.
That was true. He always saved the last sip of milk for the cat.
In the book he lives alone. In real life he was married to Marcia Iliff Paschkis for 72 years. They were a team. They had four children, a niece and nephew, and a large and loving extended family.
In real life Albert invented things as well as fixed them- including an elliptical bicycle gear, a long lasting lightbulb, and a tide clock that shows the tide and time on the clock face.
In the book he builds community through fixing things. Truly true. In his life he also built community by building and living in interracial housing, by counseling draft resisters during the Vietnam war, and by leading workshops in nonviolent problem solving at Graterford Prison.
The character Albert gets a cold and all of the many people that he has helped get together to help him. They bring him delicious food and he recovers.
In real life many of the people who knew him and loved him gathered together to remember him last week. There was a Quaker memorial service at Foulkeways where he lived, and where my mother still lives. Following the memorial there was a gathering at Gwynedd Friends Meeting where he had been a member for over 60 years. The family made delicious food – homemade soup, bread and cheese, gugelhopf and lebkuchen. Family and friends connected, drawn together by our love for him.
A few days after the memorial I returned to Gwynedd Friends Meeting. The room where we had gathered after the memorial had reverted to its usual function: a preschool. (I attended preschool there in 1961.) Gwynedd Friends School is a wonderful thriving place now. I read Albert the Fix-it Man to the current crop of bright eyed preschoolers.
I hope that I can live up to the ideals of generosity, kindness and inventiveness that my father quietly exemplified. And I hope that telling his story to kids will carry his spirit forward.
written by Julie Paschkis, November 2022