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Nuts About Hazel
Photo: Irum Shahid
I sat in the rain on an overturned bucket wishing I could forget the past week. With tears trickling down my cheeks I remembered my friend. I remembered how she talked with a Southern accent that turned any two syllables into three. I missed her hugs and how she would always yell a cheerful “Hello!” from across the street when I came home from school.

I was 11 years old, drenched from the cold rain, missing my friend.

Hazel lived across the street from my family when we moved into our new home in Florida. Before we had been there two days, she was at our front door welcoming us to the neighborhood. Soon I was hanging out at her house, sipping apple juice and eating animal crackers while she told me about the wild foxes and bobcats that lived in her backyard. At more than 10 times my age, Hazel was full of wit and wisdom. I loved her.

Despite our age difference, we had much in common. We both loved animals and peanut butter M&Ms” ™ and neither of us particularly enjoyed wearing socks. We weren’t really all that different. When it came right down to it, we were just two girls who liked to have fun.


Through my early years of elementary school my family’s admiration of Hazel grew. She was a meticulous housekeeper who washed her windows at least twice a month and kindly reminded my mother with a wink and a chuckle that it was time to clean our ceiling fans. She and her husband, Jim, kept beautiful flower gardens that inspired us to plant wild flowers in front of our own house and to enjoy the fun of being outside. When I was home from school, sick and alone, Hazel would come over every hour to make sure I was comfortable.

Hazel had a knack for recognizing and affirming people’s interests. She made sure my brother knew he was always welcome to play basketball in her driveway whenever he wanted. Knowing my love for cats, Hazel gave me a framed latch hook picture of three kittens, which still hangs in my room today. When she and Jim made pizzas, they would bring a couple to our house so my mom wouldn’t have to cook supper. And during the holidays, the perfect Christmas Eve treat was Hazel’s homemade fudge.

Bad News

I didn’t know what lung cancer was, but when my mom told me that Hazel was sick with it I didn’t want to believe her. We started seeing Hazel less and less. She didn’t come outside anymore without a wheelchair. Once in a while, Mom and I went to see Hazel, and every time she looked paler and skinnier. I remember the first time I saw her with a feeding tube. She told me that she kind of liked it because she could eat and talk to me at the same time without the inconvenience of chewing. As the cancer consumed the rest of her body, I became shy around her because I didn’t know how to act around someone who was dying. She was still alive, but I already missed her.

The news of Hazel’s death was expected but horrifying. Before this, no one I knew had died, and the thought of her lifeless body in a box was like a dark cloud choking my heart. The funeral was at her house, with only her family and a few close friends present. The next day, I faked a stomachache and didn’t go to school. I remember overhearing my mother explain the situation to my teacher, saying that I was just too sad to function. She was right.

The next weekend was a statewide Pathfinder campout I had been looking forward to for months. I considered staying home, but my parents said that the weekend away would help me forget about being sad. For a little while, I did forget. But as the sun set and the rain fell, I couldn’t help but think of all the things I wished I had said to Hazel. I wished I had gone to check on her while she was sick, just as she had for me. I wished I had told her one last time that I loved her and said “thank you” more often for all her kindness and her beautiful friendship.

Sitting in the rain on an overturned bucket, I remembered my friend and softly whispered, “Goodbye.”  

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By Marcia Ashcraft. Reprinted with permission from Mid-America Outlook Magazine, Vol. 28, #1, with permission from the Mid-America Union. Copyright © 2007 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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