I know this is more personal than public, but I just lost the woman who was somewhat of a second mother to me. I wanted to share some of my remembrances of her, not just for myself, nor even her family, but to show everyone how people are really supposed to be, just providing basic kindnesses to others.

Mrs. Emma Hazel.  She was really so much prettier than this, but it was the best picture I could find. She had such gorgeous hands, too.

Mrs. Emma Hazel. She was really so much prettier than this, but it was the best picture I could find. She had such gorgeous hands, too.

Emma Hazel is the matriarch of the Hazel clan of Providence, Rhode Island. They’ve been in my life since I was a teen-ager, and Mrs. Hazel, a no-nonsense woman, is a big part of what’s kept me with them through thick and thin all these years.

Mrs. Hazel really did teach me a lot of lessons. Her only son was my boyfriend when I was young, and I always remember fondly how, when we were going away together one week-end, she lightly admonished me to “mind your Ps and Qs.” That always cracked me up. But yes, I did mind them.

When I was younger, I always thought that I was too boisterous to be her kind of gal, but she always hung in there with me, and as I got older, we became even closer. She rescued me from more than one scrape over the years, and was always there for me.

I’ve always loved every member of her family, even if we were in a fight, and consider each and every one of them to be my own family. Actually, outside of my little mother, I’m closer to all the Hazels then to any of my own biological relatives. I especially can’t thank Mrs. H, as I called her, enough for something that she did fifteen years ago.

My best friend, Alicia, who lived in Rhode Island and was just a little bit older than I, passed away suddenly from asthma. I couldn’t bear to even enter the entire state after that, because it was just too painful to be there without my beautiful friend, so I deprived myself of seeing everybody else in that neck of the woods. That way, I could trick myself into thinking Alicia was still alive, and I just couldn’t get there to see her. But I still spoke to all the Hazels, and finally, after three years of this nonsense, Mrs. Hazel called me and broke it down for me. She said, “Karen, we’re your friends, too, and we’re still here!!!”

I realized that of course she was right, and forced myself to go visit them the next time I was in New York, which was just a few months later. That’s when I bonded with five-year-old Ronnie Hazel, Jr.; I would have missed his entire growing-up if it hadn’t been for Mrs. Hazel talking some sense into me. I’ve always been so grateful to her for that. And I didn’t get to pal around with just Ronnie; there were his brothers, Alex and Terrence, and always new members of the family, whose presence in my life has added so much to it always.

Mrs. Hazel and company also made it to Brooklyn to spend the week-end with my mother and me shortly after my father passed away. The two matriarchs always got along so well and were fast friends. Having our Rhode Island pals there was such a great distraction for us, and my mother and I were both so appreciative to them for that kindness.

And they also made it to the only birthday party I’ve had in New York since I’ve been a technical grown-up. I’m sure Mrs. H was instrumental in getting the whole fam to drive out there for that extravaganza. And while my own adorable little mother went upstairs to bed at ten PM that night, Mrs. Hazel was a trooper and stayed up past two AM, when all the local guests had left. She even had no problem sleeping on a couch! (We ran out of beds that night, with so many visitors! I offered her my bed, since Ronnie and I went “camping” under the dining room table, but she gave the space to her daughter who was under the weather, a decision I wholeheartedly agreed with.)

And I just thought of something about her that I never even thought of before—I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say a bad word about anybody! Maybe that’s due to her wonderful old-fashioned values, which the world could use a little more of.

Many of my friends asked me why, after all these years, I still call her Mrs. Hazel rather than her first name of Emma. She told me once that she even calls her friends “Mrs.” if they are a little bit older than she is. That’s the southern sensibility she was raised with, and she kept it with her always.

It’s been just two and a half weeks since her passing, and I already miss her terribly. My heart goes out to her entire big family and friends. This is the one time that I can truly say that I really do know the pain they’re feeling, because I’m feeling this particular loss acutely myself.

I am so grateful that she had called me in April and asked when I was going to come visit her. It had been a few years because of so many unavoidable circumstances, and talking with Emma Hazel, I just knew that I was going to go see her on my Spring trip to New York, by hook or by crook. I asked her if it would be intruding too much to spend Mother’s Day with her and her family, and she said she would love to have me. I’m so grateful that things worked out the way they did, because that is a Mother’s Day I will cherish forever.

So thank you, Mrs. Hazel, for everything you’ve done for me. And may you rest in peace. And say hi to my little mother for me while you’re at it.


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