The Friends bookstore has some loyal readers who enjoy browsing the shelves of our used books. They may sit for an hour or two on our comfortable benches and peruse the books they’ve selected. No charge for reading without buying!
One man in particular caught my attention, both for the books and magazines he selects, and for the unique cap he wears.
More on the cap in a moment.
He’s an older gentleman, aided by a walker-on-wheels, accompanied by a slightly younger friend. Monday is their big day to come to library, so the young friend heads off to the library’s newspaper section and devours, word for word, the Sunday New York Times.
But the older fellow settles into the bookstore after selecting a nonfiction book from science, history or politics. His interests also include technology, travel, boating, genealogy, government, economics. He’s a big fan of fiction, Stuart Woods, for example, so you might see him reading Woods’ Sex, Lives & Serious Money or Carnal Curiosity. He enjoys David Balducci’s spy novels and espionage thrillers such as Last Man Standing or End Game. Of course, he likes James Patterson’s detective novels such as The Quickie or Kill Alex Ross. Dan Brown and Dean Koontz are favorites. In fact, he's such a fanboy of Koontz that he wrote him a mash note and now they correspond regularly.
If it’s printed, Ed’ll read it.
To slow down his heart rate and calm his pulse after those thrillers, he’ll turn to reading about the history of chocolate, then back to the chills and thrills of investments in Barron’s, The Economist, and The Wall Street Journal.
This is not your typical Florida geezer into pinochle, the 4:30 early bird specials at Golden Corral, and wanting to tell you how good life was back North.
Now as for that cap, it proclaims, boldly, Not Everyone Looks This Good at 100.
I decided I needed to know about this unique fellow who must surely qualify for Oldest Reader in the Bookstore. Since his cap makes that in-your-face challenge to those of us younger, I asked him. So, are you 100?
“No, it’s an old cap,” he replied, “I’m 101 now.”
I proceeded to bombard him with more questions. Not once did he tell me to back off, none of your damn business, you baby-boomer whipper-snapper, get outta my face. He answered all questions cheerfully and without hesitation. His attitude is consistently positive and upbeat.
This is a man in love with his life.
His name is Ed Hacking. He lives in Island Estates/Clearwater in a house on the water. Dolphins are his morning's amusement, and pelicans his afternoon's, with reading and writing in between. He’s been married for 50 years to Sally Hacking; they met in 1968 on an airplane flying home from Brussels to Silver Springs, Maryland. The seat next to her was empty, so he shifted seats. His opening gambit, as they looked out the window to the passing landscape below, was a seductive “That’s Iceland down there.” He was 52. She was 25. They were married within the year; this year they'll celebrate their 50th anniversary. I guess it's going to last. She’s Scottish and was a nurse coordinator in cardiac ICU, nurse midwife, held elected office in Maryland and promoted legislation that allowed state licensure for massage therapy, and spent time as a volunteer school librarian. She’s still involved in government work and consulting.
Ed likes to write and has self-published several books on metaphysics, and he’s written his memoir titled Five Lives: Every Twenty Years a New Life. He recounts his birth in Connecticut, then early immigration to Quebec, a childhood lived in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. His memoir mentions that he has had several concussions and several near-death experiences — forceps birth, sledding accident at age four (he was slammed against a tree), multiple near-drownings, quicksand, roller skating that took him under horses’ hooves, slipping and falling on an icy airport tarmac, and more. This man made it to 101? The second stage of his life, after he survived childhood, began in Washington DC, where he worked as a life insurance salesman; that lasted his full adult career. That location brought him in touch with the Roosevelts, as he would accompany wounded soldiers from Walter Reed Hospital and Ft. Belvoir, VA to Sunday night suppers at the White House. He once was crossing the street in DC, and saw Eleanor with a couple of her friends leaving a department store, and she yelled out, “Hi Ed!”
His Five Lives consist of a happy childhood, a career as insurance executive, an airplane pilot, owner of the Wishing Well Travel Park in Ocean City, Maryland, and his retirement to the Sunshine State. In retirement, he's traveled abroad, including returning to the ancestral home in Lancashire, England, town of Hacking, his family namesake, once the location of cotton mills powered by coal-fed steam engines.
What brings Ed to the Largo Library so often? I mean, he’s just minutes from the downtown Clearwater Library, but he prefers Largo. Why? He was very quick to rattle off all the reasons — the convenience of available parking, the landscaped area around the library filled with blooming trees, the spacious atrium entrance, the cafe for coffee and sweets, the used bookstore with ample supply of thrillers, the openness, the ambiance, the welcoming staff, his friendly interlocutor...
Ed’s mother lived to 103, so maybe it’s all in the genes. But when I asked Ed why he had lived so long, he attributed his longevity to “divine guidance, something else out there controlling my life. How else could I have survived concussions and drownings and quicksand?” He commented that most insurance actuarial tables stop at 96, so he's outlived the statistics. He takes delight in his ongoing love affair with Sally and his deep friendship with John (his friend who brings him to the library). “It’s so wonderful to have good friends at this age.”
It’s fitting that he’s a huge jigsaw puzzle fan too. His rich and varied life has certainly been a matter of fitting the pieces together — some random, some planned, some divinely guided apparently — as he spends time in his 102nd year with his wife, with friends, conversation, library visits, and Florida waterfront living.
A life well-led and well-read, indeed.
Ben Wiley, a Creative Loafing film reviewer, also advocates for paper and print. Dead trees, if you will. He volunteers at a local library bookstore and enjoys engaging with readers and their books. This BookStories feature highlights some of these Ben, Book & Beyond encounters. Contact him here.