Congratulations to Barb Miller, first place winner in the Inspirational/Spiritual Essay category of the 89th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition. Here's her winning essay, "Crazy Hazel."
Crazy Hazel passed away this week. As usual, St. Felicia’s guild made a gallon of carrot salad and a gallon of tapioca pudding for the bereavement luncheon. Though in life, Hazel Marie Bauer attended almost every funeral at our parish, few parishioners knew anything about the strange woman, except her nickname. She resided in a gated community, one of the newer maintenance-free villas designed for seniors. She mentioned once that her housekeeper was ‘robbing her blind’ and that when her son found out, he’d ‘fix her wagon.’
According to my friend, Bethany Vernon, who owned Gottlieb’s ice-cream shop in Leavenworth, WA, a neighboring tourist town, Hazel rode the bus there twice a week for a double peppermint waffle cone. She spent the rest of the afternoon, cussing out the shopkeepers.
Though the woman probably suffered from some sort of mental disorder, she was cognizant enough to figure out the funeral schedule in the church bulletin, attending almost every service as long as I’d been a member there. This eighty pounds of coiled rattler, always dressed in designer clothing with matching accessories, usually arrived in a taxi. Bobbed silver hair, sharp dark eyebrows glowering from below the brim of her hat, she arrived, eager to celebrate death.
Most Sundays, I picked her up for Mass. Word spread among back-row patrons to enter her pew from the opposite end, as she’d never budge from the third-from-the-rear isle seat. Sit too close, you might be reprimanded for being too fat, hideously dressed, or an imbecile. Hazel wore gloves year-round to avoid germs. There was no ‘peace be with you’ handshake from this parishioner!
Why she tolerated me, I’ll never know. Aside from her bark in the pew, she was a total stranger to everyone but the bereavement luncheon crew. After each funeral mass, Hazel was the first to leave the chapel and first in the parish hall buffet line. She always asked for carrot salad and tapioca, eating nothing but that and a generous serving of cake. Our guild finally made all three menu items standard, suspecting that she didn’t prepare meals for herself. We kept disposable food containers in the church hall to accommodate Hazel’s requests for take-home left-overs. Sweet about asking, she would tuck the containers under the seat of her walker, assuring us it was for her cat or her son. As far as we knew, she had neither.
My close friend, Doris Yoder, lost her mother to cancer last January. We were both shocked when Hazel appeared at Lorraine’s viewing and rosary service. It seems she and Hazel were former PEO sisters in a local chapter. Hazel walked up to the open casket and barked loudly, “ She looks like a hooker with all that make-up. Look at those pink fingernails! Lorraine never wore polish!” Doris quickly draped a lace handkerchief over her mother’s hands, hoping to regain the reverence of the service. I ushered Hazel toward a chair, mumbling the Hail Mary response, “deliver us from evil, now and at the hour of our death.”
Like me, the ladies on the funeral luncheon committee preferred to serve behind the scenes rather than attend the memorial services; however I broke protocol when it came to Hazel’s celebration of life. Expecting a sparse turn-out, all of our St. Felicia Guild members followed suit. Since the woman was never seen out and about without a hat, we scrounged up hats to wear to her service.
As is customary in a Catholic funeral mass homily, our priest, Father Moran commented on Hazel’s life and her role as a member of St. Mark’s church community.
“Hazel Marie Bauer was born in 1918 in Spokane, Washington. Her parents were somehow affiliated with The Crescent, which by1909 was the largest retail Department store in the region. Their millenary department was highly acclaimed and according to what Hazel told me, her mother influenced much of the purchasing. She shared once that in 1945, the first shipment of silk stockings, since the beginning of WWII, arrived at The Crescent. Though unadvertised, 108 pair sold within two hours after opening the store. Hazel was the proud owner of a pair of those stockings.
"Her marriage to a Navy seaman, Grant Bauer, ended when her beloved died at Pearl Harbor. Widowed and childless, she never remarried. Preferring anonymity, her generosity over the years provided numerous tuition scholarships for children in our parish. In addition, a decade ago, Hazel Bauer’s gift of 1.5 million helped to complete the church hall, kitchen facilities, and furnish the downstairs meeting room here at St. Mark’s.
"The last time I visited her at the hospital to administer the healing sacrament, she didn’t recognize me. She made it very clear to me that ‘she had a husband and didn’t need another’. I was trying to decide if I was flattered.” The priest chuckled. “Hazel passed peacefully, ready to adorn herself in heavenly attire. A generous and faithful servant, may she receive her eternal reward.”
With the exception of Father Moran and a few devoted mass attendees, our guild celebrated the passing of Hazel Bauer at her bereavement luncheon. We served tapioca pudding, carrot salad, and cake. This time, sadly, no one asked for take-home containers.