A Hat That Goes Everywhere/ watercolor/ KSR
She was my paternal grandmother’s much younger half-sister, and probably in her day, she would have been known as a “fine figure of a woman”.
She was large-boned, though not fat, with a full, well-shaped bosom, strong arms, and sturdy legs. I remember her as a rather homely woman with large teeth who smiled a lot and was fun to be around. On top of short, wispy grey hair she wore a hat that went everywhere, which was crocheted of an ecru string, and had a brim which was wired on the edge to make it stand out. She looked terribly home-made and out-of-date, but I’m sure she felt she looked quite smart.
She belonged to many of the social clubs that country women often delight in and would plop her hat onto her head and head five miles into town for the day. Since she owned a great deal of the town, she probably conducted business on a lot of those days.
She was a lover of animals, at that time especially a red Australian shepherd named Bounce, whom she insisted could talk. I know we all say that about smart or clever dogs who live with us, but she actually believed Bounce could enunciate words. He slept beside the old wood stove and groaned out his messages when she began a conversation. Since she was also a devotee of Yahtzee, of which we played endless games, maybe the messages came through Bounce. At any rate, Bounce was a jolly companion after her husband, Jean passed away.
Each year Bounce led the annual gladioli parade through downtown Grants Pass, Oregon, carrying a basket of gladioli. He was a town fixture, and everybody knew Bounce.
My grandmother and Aunt Hazel had the same mother though different fathers. I always thought of her as being old, and was surprised to learn that she had gone to high school with my aunt Arlene, my father’s sister.
She had a brother, Uncle Charlie, who owned a pool hall in Grants Pass, where I remember going for an ice cream cone when I was visiting the Oregon relatives. My mother said that Charlie’s daughter, Doris had been a prostitute, but to be fair, I don’t think that is entirely true, because no one really knew for sure. My mother was prone to see a too-short skirt or bleached hair as being a sure indication of a loose woman.
Sadly, Uncle Charlie committed suicide by running a hose from his exhaust pipe into his car. I never heard what happened to Doris.
Finally the old cabin Hazel and Jean had lived in was torn down and she built a new place of cement brick which was a bit larger than the first and even had a studio. I think the only art work she ever did in it was some pressed flowers, but nevertheless, it had lots of windows looking out over beautiful fields toward the Rogue River, and she could have done more had she wanted to.
After Bounce died, Hazel began collecting cats. I never knew how many there were at any one time, but my daughter says there must have been a hundred, which probably is a childhood overestimation.
I don’t think it would be a stretch of the imagination to say that Hazel was a true eccentric. My cousin called her a “nice ‘ol Auntie”, which is a lovely tribute, and I hope someone says that about me someday.