Sass and Vinegar

“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, It’s the size of the fight in the dog.”     

~Mark Twain

Creative Writing Siphoning. I’ve given this a lot of thought lately, tried to find a creative outlet for my stories–because that thing that’s buried deep inside, the collection of thoughts and experiences, life itself and that which makes me me–is no longer simmering. I feel a low, rolling boil. I want to spill. Do you know what I mean?

It occurred to me recently that I’ve been writing all my life. I am the highly proficient nocturnal collector of words and phrases (and tell myself with one eye open that in the morning I’ll remember the astonishingly perceptive phrase I’d just come up with describing the significance of humankind. Uh, huh). Scribbles and squiggles appear all over my house, on scraps of paper, in journals. Check out my Drafts tab:

photo of my drafts_May 2016

When thinking about my interest in writing and how it began, this is who came to mind.

Hazel_May 2016Look at her! The lady knew bling before bling became bling. From head to toe she oozed class. I used to watch her meticulously apply black mascara and blue eye shadow, something my grandmother never touched. She wasn’t finished until the foundation, rouge, and lipstick had been applied. The perfume, the outfit; there was always a hat.

She stood 4′ 10″ and weighed 110 pounds. Born with one leg shorter than the other, it is believed the family created a story that, as a baby, she was “dropped” causing injury to her hip. Given the stigma, lack of information, and fear about genetic deformities, she chose to forego having children. More likely, I later learned, she was born with a dislocated hip in a time when surgical corrections were rare. The result: her entire life, she walked with a significant limp.

There was little she couldn’t do. Little she didn’t do. Hazel de Helen Butterfield Kasae was my father’s aunt, and long after I towered over her, in my eyes, she was gargantuan. Had she lived, she would now be 114.

When necessary, she could be hell on wheels (but usually wasn’t). I loved her with all my heart, probably because she was full of sass and vinegar.


Wordplay. I knew where it came from, but I had forgotten how pervasive it had been in the scads of letters we exchanged. This was also true of my grandma, Hazel’s older sister. My father had a master’s in Zing, that uncanny ability to nail someone verbally before they knew they’d been “hit.” They were witty and sarcasm was an art. They loved words and they knew how to use them.

About 15 minutes after I asked grandma to sign my autograph book, this is what I received. Her biggest wish was that we’d lived closer. I later ripped out the page (thankfully, because I no longer have the book). I was nine.

First Prize poem_grandma Lalla_May 2016Grandma loved poetry, but it was Hazel who played. She would start on one page of a folded piece of stationary and move to the next without telling the recipient which page to read next. She kept us guessing. Her letters were so much fun to read it hardly mattered what she wrote. I loved her showy, floral script:

hazel and grandma letters_May 2016 (7)

hazel and grandma letters_May 2016 (1)Their personalities came through in their styles. Hazel’s flash and flare taught me to play with words, that the visual and how words appear on paper, makes a statement. Sometimes it was just a word, a name. Hazel called my father Slim. He wasn’t.

hazel and dad_May 2016Grandma’s artistry, her ability to put her heart into words and phrases, impacted me more than I realized. Grandma taught me how she put her heart into writing.

hazel and grandma letters_May 2016 (4)I received long, fun-filled letters from dad while I was in college. His style mirrored that of his predecessors. If you weren’t with someone, your words had to count. They were meant to sting or zing, cause a reaction, evoke laughter.

He would tell me about a weekend at the beach with mom, how they took long walks in the sand. Then he’d write, “I walked your mother’s ass off.” 


Grandma and Auntie Hazel left a legacy filled with sass, vinegar, love, and warmth. It’s all over the pages of their lives. Recent blood tests reveal high levels of sarcasm. It lives.


Whatever the story,

however expressed,

I rest in the knowledge

I learned from the best. 

hazeljune61_May 2016

40 thoughts on “Sass and Vinegar

    • Hi, Sheryl! After thinking about my early beginnings with writing, I got to thinking about what writing techniques we were exposed to in school. Nothing came anywhere near what those ladies wrote to me and my sister. I cannot recall dabbling in poetry, only its existence. How very sad in hindsight. When I think about it, Hazel broke all the rules, which really, is and can be poetry. Do you remember learning anything exciting about writing when you were in school? Were you exposed to poetry? Thank you for your comment. 🙂

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      • I didn’t like to write very much when I was in school. We did a unit on poetry. We read Robert Frost’s Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening and a few other poems. We then tried our hands at writing a poem or two.

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    • Jess, somehow you zero in on the very things I’ve been working through. Since I knew Hazel and Bertha and grandma, of course, I can hear their voices when I think of them. Not so with Orah. All I have are her letters, so I must create my own version of her as I imagine her life through her writings. It’s the oddest thing and something I’d never imagined. In a very early post called Doorknobs & Doilies (link here) I show the reader something she made, only identified from what she wrote in her letter. Before that we had no idea who made it. It’s a pansy doily.

      I wish I had met her before she died because I think it would have helped her see my father in a different light.

      Wow! Thanks for your comment! 🙂

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  • What a wonderful and well told story. How lucky you are to have such great influence from previous generations and extended family. I know of no one in mine that did any writing or story telling. It’s something to think about. I’m glad you shared this.

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    • Hi Marlene! Thank you so much for your astute comments. I agree about the importance of family writers. We did not realize all of what we had until my mother relocated. Hundreds of letters written by Hazel and grandma’s mother (Orah, whom I’ve written about) have become my only connection to Orah since she passed seven years before I was born. I am so thankful I knew Hazel and their youngest sister, Bertha. I’d already kept many of the letters from grandma and Hazel.

      These ladies (Orah, and her daughters Lalla, Hazel and Bertha) raised my father, and because they were so influential in his life, he wanted his daughters to know them. When our parents vacationed, my sister and I alternated staying with Hazel and grandma, so, lots of one-on-one time. In hindsight it was a true blessing.

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