She did not physically resemble the Hazel portrayed by Shirley Booth in the 1960‘s television series other than wearing a pull-over apron each day, but my Hazel did have qualities similar to the beloved sitcom character that made all of my friends envy my good fortune of having an “almost” live-in housekeeper. She was a woman who knew how to show love and affection to a brood of noisy children with down home cooking, childhood stories of riding cows, and the use of a well-timed switching or two. My real-life Hazel spent most of her waking hours in our home, taking care of my four older siblings and me while my parents worked long hours.
Cooking, light cleaning, and laundry were not the only jobs that she was assigned. Besides those necessary chores, Hazel embraced the challenge of nurturing and instructing the charges left in her care with total devotion! We were five rambunctious, busy, scuffling kids who required constant dedication that was above and beyond any run-of-the-mill babysitter. Because of her undaunted commitment to our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being, we grew up feeling secure and confident.
Since she cared for me from the time that I was a babe in arms, we developed an especially close relationship that would rival any mother-daughter bond. The fragrance of Jesus wafted around her as she loved me like her own child. She made me feel like I was her “favorite” by hiding fresh peanut butter cookies for me, teaching me how to sing folk songs and hand sew sock dolls, taking evening strolls around the block, grimacing while I did upside down acrobatics on the swing set, and leisurely playing rummy with me at the kitchen table. According to Hazel, the lilacs bloomed just for my enjoyment and the morning song birds were chirping my name!
When I was ten my dad got laid off from his job. Hazel, now seventy one years old, was relieved of her duties since dad would be available. Besides, her baby was now a decade old and no longer needed a babysitter . I was truly sorrowful that my beloved Hazel was not going to be at my house every day. As Providence would have it, she eventually ended up going to the same church as me, so I got to sit with her, lean on her, trace the veins and age spots on her hands, and worship by her side.
Throughout my teenage years, I would visit her, spend the night, and have long phone conversations with her. The vast age difference did not matter; she was my best friend.
When I was nineteen and she eighty, I visited her for the last time as she lay in a hospital bed with eyes glistening with tears and unable to talk. I squeezed her hand and told her I loved her. As I walked to another part of the hospital where my terminally ill mother was rooming, I knew I would never see Hazel again. She was going to be with “our Jesus”. Two days later that is what she did.
I am eternally grateful for the lessons of life and love taught to me by an angel in disguise, my Hazel.