As I sling imperfect measurements of flour and brown sugar into a big enamelware bowl this morning, as I sip my coffee out of the Swede coffee cup (“you can always tell a Swede but you can’t tell him much”), as I drag my brushes through the vibrant liquid colors and commit them to the paper, my grandma is with me in the kitchen today. Hazel was my mother’s mother. Her middle name was Fern.
She loved her family and was a consummate homemaker. She loved the nothingness of the Arizona desert. She loved the pink, cloudy evening skies of the West. In her opinion, the Tetons were God’s most extravagant gift to his children. She was an artist and took painting courses by correspondence. She had a real gypsy spirit and didn’t mind moving around, wherever the winds of opportunity blew her and her family. She was a rascally tomboy when she was young, and kept a healthy portion of that feisty nature as long as she lived.
When my grandfather first saw her, he was dumbstruck by her raven hair, her smooth, dark skin and her tiny waist. (His name was Philip Oscar.) Hazel was a profound beauty. Her deep, rich, lolling laugh was unmistakable and filled the air. She had able arms of Biblical proportions; she worked hard alongside her husband and supported him in his endeavors as a farmer and a carpenter. She certainly wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. She was a creative thinker. She took apart the children’s clothes and made more clothes out of the fabric. Mom said that one year she made a Christmas topiary tree out of spray-painted tumbleweeds. Her homemade butter was always sweet and much fresher than Aunt Berneece’s because she pressed every bit of water out of it, the story is told.
She kept her soap in a little red plastic flower-shaped dish by the kitchen sink which I always thought was beautiful. She taught me how to read in the back seat of the Ford which carried us to California in the summer of my fourth year. One of the first phrases she helped me identify and sound out was “extraordinarily long arms” from the book “Mr. Tickle.” She had soft skin — the very pillow-softest. When she held me her neck always smelled powdery and clean. She made clothes for my baby doll using patterns she made by tracing her form onto paper towels. One piece was a double-breasted, winter white overcoat with a Peter Pan collar. She even made matching nightgowns of pink flannel for me and my doll.
I remember sitting on the back step, watching her scrub the birdbath in the garden faithfully; her birds always had a fresh place to splash around. In their back yard grew plum, cherry, and apple trees, and she even had a blueberry bush which she covered with ethereal netting when the bugs got bothersome. Her Swedish meatballs were the stuff of legends. She made bread more fragrant and toasty-buttery-tasting than any I’ve ever had (Angela and I greedily consumed whole loaves of the stuff on our own).
She was a faithful woman. She loved Jesus with all of her self, trusted in him wholly, and lifted her family up to his care daily. She left us when I was ten years old, and her lasting gift was this brilliant, shimmering collection of so many glad memories. I was given grandma’s art supplies when she passed away. Every time I hold one of her drawing pencils in my hand, I wish that she could know me today as a grown woman. She would laugh that marvelous laugh and shake her head at how alike we are and how I am, most definitely, Hazel’s granddaughter.