The Remembrance Project: Louis Chako

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Louis Chako died January 23 in Milton, Massachusetts. He was 92 years old. His brother, Arthur Chako, died a year earlier, at 88. Except for death and deployment during World War II, they were inseparable their entire lives. The brothers grew up in a mountainous village in Albania — no electricity, shepherds guarding livestock against wolves, and a large extended family sleeping on the top floor of the house, while goats and chickens slept on the bottom.

Shortly before Mussolini invaded Albania, the family immigrated to Massachusetts. Louis and Arthur were teens; their father was already working there in a shoe factory. Amid the trauma of change, there were also a few diversions: they ate their first bananas on the ship coming over.

They learned English (their mother never spoke a word), and several years later, were drafted into World War II — Louis first, then Arthur. Arthur ended up in the Aleutian Islands, translating Morse Code. Into his eighties, he got a kick from reciting the beeps and dashes of his name out loud. Louis was naturalized on the way to boot camp in South Carolina, trained in infantry, and was eventually captured in the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy. He spent 14 months in a Nazi prisoner of war camp, where he was allowed occasional letters home. In minimizing, reassuring sentences, he asked for shipments of candy and news of Arthur. Secretly, he kept a diary of his horrors.

People couldn’t tell them apart, yet, except for being very short and very proud Albanians, they were not at all alike. Arthur liked vigorous hikes, and until his death kept trim with a daily routine of weights and jumping jacks. He would stop people on the streets of Milton to discuss Albanian history with them. In spite of his sociality, he never married. He was deeply, devotedly wed, but to his family.

Louis was cautious, and easily worried. He continued to love candy — when he was elderly, only the prospect of chocolate or Neapolitan pastries could rouse him from his chair by the window, and he read ancient Illyrian history for hours. After the war, he married and had two daughters, before sorrow intervened. When they were 13 months and six years old, his wife died. Arthur helped raise the girls, along with Louis' parents — and then, when the girls married, the brothers helped raise their children, too. After all, they only lived five houses away.

Always together did not mean always compatible. When the windows in their house were open, neighbors sometimes heard Louis and Arthur screaming in Albanian. The word for donkey was also used, but anyone listening long enough knew that fights ended in laughter. “He’s the best brother in the world,” Louis said to his children and grandchildren — though not to Arthur. It didn’t matter.

As they aged, Louis weakened, and Arthur climbed up and down the stairs many times a day, from his room on the first floor to Louis’ on the second. Sometimes he was carrying meals he had cooked, and then brought downstairs again to reheat when they weren’t hot enough. Sometimes, even with his arthritis, he climbed up and down just to say hi.

To the end, they were fiercely protective of the family they had raised together, but in their different ways. Louis would insist his grown grandchildren drive home when they visited at night, even though their house was only a few hundred feet away. Arthur always walked them back with a flashlight.

Did you know Louis Chako? Share your memories in the comments section.


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