When I started working at one of my present jobs Hazel was the oldest and one of the most interesting people in my life. At the time she was almost ninety years old and still working part-time. She was still driving her little champagne-colored Ford and still lived alone in her immaculate little mauve apartment.
She was a tiny thing, delicate and elegant. She was proper and mannered—a woman from a long-gone era. We, her co-workers, sometimes called her Lady Astor because of this formal gentility.
We worked opposite shifts; she worked in the morning and I worked in the evening, but occasionally our shifts would overlap and I would get to work with her. During the early years I watched her learn to navigate three new computer systems. Let me emphasize that she learned three new systems between her late eighties and early nineties. Isn’t that a remarkable feat?
Her stubborn and independent nature was gloved in her pristine gentility. But there were times when her fierce independence was quite evident. And I had to laugh. I could only hope that someday I would have her steel spine.
She lived through The Great Depression. She watched her father be generous to those in need and it affected her. She married a man named Smitty and lost him to cancer. She met another and before they married she lost him to a heart attack. She had no children, but I never detected any bitterness.
In her younger days she not only rode on a plane with the heavy metal rock band, Grateful Dead, but she conversed with them. One year for Halloween she donned a mini skirt and boots (remember how old she was). And that is just who Hazel was. She was able to step across many generational lines and boundaries.
She broke her hip, recovered and came back to work. She fractured her pelvis; it healed and she returned to work. And every time she did we marveled at her determination and tenacity. She was the truest of extroverts and thrived in the presence of people. She gained strength from her interactions and relationships.
One time I went to work and she was behind the counter. A very handsome man came in and was talking with her. I turned only to see the man lean all the way across the counter and kiss Hazel. I openly stared because I was so dumbfounded. She turned to me and caught me in my rude behavior. She laughed and said, “Tamera, you’re just jealous, aren’t you?” And I must admit that I was in so many ways. But I wasn’t jealous of the kiss. No, I was amazed that she was ninety years old and still so full of spunk and life and humor. She was snappy and told it like it was. Hazel made people laugh. And I admired her. In so many ways she inspired me. She was alive. Really alive and she loved living. This is a lost art.
Recently Hazel passed. And I am not sure I completely understand that phrase when speaking of death, but I know it is the way Hazel would refer to this event at the end of our lives. I was quietly stunned when I was called. I had been expecting this news, but it didn’t soften the reality.
Someone stopped me at church this past week and said, “Aren’t you happy for Hazel?” For a split second I couldn’t put happy and Hazel’s death in the same thought. Suddenly I realized that is exactly what all of us should be—happy for Hazel.
She lived a long, full and ordinarily extraordinary life. This little feisty woman finished her life as she did everything.
With dignity and grace.
I will miss her.