Hazel de Helen

She stood all of 4′ 10″ and weighed 110 pounds. She was my father’s aunt but was more like his second mother. When I recently found a box with her name on the outside I felt my heart twist. Dad became her power of attorney. He passed 11 years ago; now those records sit at my house. I sat down the other night to sort the papers. They are still there. I can’t toss them, not a single one of the three-years-worth of 37 year old cancelled checks, not yet.


I grew up mostly in awe of her, the woman so much like a grandma but who wasn’t. She was, in fact, my grandma’s sister whom we visited often. She had no children–I’ll get to that–and I always wished that had been different. Of the four sisters in my grandma’s family, only one–grandma–had children (my father). The other sisters either died young or had no children. It may have been a miracle we were born.

Hazel_young woman_probably at Oakes st house_Tacoma around 1914 or so

Hazel de Helen Butterfield Kasae, my great aunt, made me laugh as often as she made me tow the line. I nearly wet myself once when I stayed with her; I was about 10. I was with her while my sister was at grandma’s. We’d switch off so they each could enjoy our charm all to themselves, then we’d switch again.

She’d bought ice cream and after dinner, we both stood in her kitchen while she began scooping. Her freezer must have worked hard that day, requiring her to use some muscle. She stressed and strained, worked a bit more. Suddenly, a scoop of ice cream went flying into the air, over our heads, promptly landing on the floor. It was the funniest thing I had ever seen, and I lost it. Her belly hurt as much as mine for the laughter; it was written all over her face. She tried to refrain. Soon, we were both toast.

Once, when she visited our house in Oregon, she and my mother were in the kitchen preparing for dinner.Β  Mom needed a can of something for dinner, but she’d run out. I was told to run up to the market three blocks away to buy said can. I reluctantly went and bought the desired can. I came home horribly glad THAT was over only to discover it wasn’t. I’d bought the wrong can prompting mom to ask me to go back to the store to get the right one. I didn’t want to go. I’d already been to the store. Couldn’t they do without? Apparently, not. It was Hazel who looked at me and, knowing I was upset and without saying a word, simply shook her head in the affirmative with her sweet smile, encouraging me to go. I will never forget her face, and how she looked at me then and when I got back. She was firm but kind. I loved her dearly.

PIX_BUTTERFIELD_BERTHA AND HAZEL SIDE YARD
Bertha and Hazel Butterfield, early 20s

Hazel was the third sister of four. Lillian, Lalla (grandma), Hazel, and Bertha were the four daughters of Orah Myrtle Smith and Elmer Hunt Butterfield.

I’ve written about Hazel before, but I’ve never written a post solely about her, in honor of her, or because of her.

I don’t know if she knew how much she meant to me, how much I enjoyed spending time at her house, and just being with her. That she tolerated her nieces playing in her basement–mixing the contents of old salt and pepper shakers until the whole room reeked of pepper–was beyond imagination in my book. She was the best.

And, isn’t that the way? We only realize certain things late in the game. Why is it that children are self-centered enough that sometimes people have to die before we realize what they meant? Did she ever know?

Hazel was every bit or more important to my father as she was to me. Dad, being the only child of the four sisters, was kind of like everyone’s child. He was the only, and being the only, was the center of attention among all the adults (that shifted a bit when my sister and I came along).

The house below is the first house my father lived in–he was born in 1929–but which was later purchased from grandma by Hazel and her husband. Here are pictures of the “remodel.”

House on Park_remodel photos_late 30s early 40sAbout that purchase? When going through Hazel’s things I came across this record of the home purchase.

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It helps to remember people if I see where they lived, where they worked, and with whom they associated. Exactly none of those papers have been tossed. It feels like saying goodbye all over again.

House on Park_Tacoma_5815 address_Bert added this front porch_House was sold to H and B from Lalla
Back then, after the remodel, and…

Hazel on steps of house on Park_30s

House purchased by Hazel and B from Lalla_now 2017
Now.

Hazel began working at People’s Department Store in Tacoma in the late 20s. She worked her way up to head cashier and was well respected. You’ll recognize her below.

hazel and work buddies I believeAs mentioned, Hazel did not have children. The story goes that she was dropped as a baby resulting in an injury to her right hip; one leg remained shorter than the other. Whether from stigma or fear or both, Hazel did not want to risk having children born with the same affliction. Notice below that her right foot rests higher than her left. She would have made a fabulous parent.

Hazel and Lalla_July 1917_Point Defiance Park
Lalla and Hazel, 1917

Regardless, Hazel welcomed my sister and I with open arms, always. She loved my father and mother as her own, and it showed.

There were no holidays celebrated without her; each time we visited our grandparents, we saw Hazel.

Hazel and her husband were eventually able to buy a larger home, also in Tacoma, within a few blocks of grandma. Her husband added the garage, and they had a dog and raised chickens in the back for a while. They lived in this second home when I knew her.

Below is that new house when first purchased, and at bottom, you’ll recognize two little girls who gave their father a run for his money.

She may not have given birth, but Hazel did, in fact, have children. She had all of us. Dad did right by her. The journalist and “stickler for details” man he was, he kept records of all phone calls, all conversations, why and when. I have those, too. If something seemed off, he called and recorded the outcome. He followed up on anything amiss until it was clear. He did it all from out of state. He was POA for the youngest sister, Bertha, too.

Mom grandma and Hazel with us at Hazels house_Tacoma
Front yard of Hazel’s house, Tacoma

It’s difficult to throw away those papers, the recordings of her life. It’s proof that she was here. Seeing her beautiful, showy handwriting again made me smile. She and I wrote letters when I was young. The direction of her sentences often took various turns such that she wrote upside down, along the side, or my favorite, in circles. She’d jump to the next, non-sequential page, conveniently leaving off page numbers. It was up to me to figure out where she was going next. It was sheer joy reading Hazel’s letters.

In the later years Hazel developed a form of dementia, particularly painful to me on one specific visit. Dad, Hazel and I had gone out for lunch, and while in the restaurant, she looked at me and said, “Are you Lynne or Karen?” It crushed me that she could not distinguish me from my sister, but I could see in her eyes that she honestly didn’t know. It broke my heart. I cannot recall how well I hid my hurt, whether or not she knew how her question affected me. I simply said, “I’m Karen,” and smiled. She smiled back and my heart swelled and broke all over again. It was my first introduction to dementia.

Her decline was also evident in her changing signature.

I’ve never met anyone like Hazel. I doubt I ever will. She was part of my life from the very beginning, even though she lived out of state. Below: Mom, me, and Hazel.

Karen walking with mom and Hazel_backyard of 228 South 59th_Tacoma_May 1960

So, why all the fuss for my father’s aunt? Today is a very special day.


I wish I could make her a great big chocolate cake.

I wish I could scoop some ice cream on top and celebrate for days.

I wish she were here so I could say, “Happy Birthday!”

Born on this day in 1902, she would have been 115.


❀ Wherever you are, Thank you sweet lady, and know you will not be forgotten. ❀

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Hazel de Helen Butterfield Kasae

May 1, 1902- June 16, 1982

Hazel_birthday cake at bottom_not sure of the year_likely 60s

Those papers? They are still in the box….

22 thoughts on “Hazel de Helen

  • What a beautiful tribute to adults you loved, especially Hazel. Your words and photographs combined to tell a wonderful story and to remind me of my important people, including Great Aunt Beulah who inspired my blog.

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    • Thank you, Janet! Hazel was easy to love and I respected her as well. What I really miss was her sense of humor. She came from a long line of wit and sarcasm and she knew how to use it. πŸ™‚ Yes, I read the history of your great aunt Beulah. I love how those before us have inspired and remain with us to this day. Thanks for stopping by. ❀

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  • What a beautiful post and tribute to a wonderful and strong woman. It was rare, I think, for women to wear pants in her era. She looked like she could handle everything that life tossed at her. My grandmother, (dad’s side) had 10 children. 8 lived past teen years and 2 of her 3 sisters had none. My aunt Lucille stepped up and helped finish raising the last after grandma died when I was 7. Of course, I was moving all over the world and country so I had no real connection to anyone but when I was almost 14 and life became unbearable at home, Grandpa and Aunt Lucille took me in for a year. As I grew into an awake adult, I would send her flowers on Mother’s Day and thank her for saving me. It really wasn’t enough and my life was transient always so I only saw her once again after that. But my heart knows how much she meant to me. I’m sure your Aunt knows too. Since you have room to store those papers, there is no reason you have to dispose of them. Taking photos is a wonderful way to keep them too. There was so much about this post I enjoyed it’s hard to mention all of it. Thanks for sharing. Hugs, M

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    • Thanks so much, Marlene. ❀ Yes, pants are what Hazel always wore, in spite of the fact that each pair had to be altered due to her shorter leg. Can you imagine? Sounds like Aunt Lucille was your angel. I'm sure she was thrilled beyond thrilled to receive those flowers from you. Must have made her heart swell. Have you written about her on your blog? I'd love to read that one. About storing those papers…I am trying to clean out and get rid of stuff. I am on a cleaning out binge and this stuff will be of no use to my kids. I don't want to do what my parents inadvertently did to my sister and me. Boxes and boxes of stuff. So, I may keep them with instructions for when I go. That's a hard one to think about, but as long as they read about her, I'll be good. πŸ™‚ Glad you enjoyed this post about our Hazel. She was a dear. Have a great sunny week! πŸ™‚ ❀

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  • This is such a lovely piece Karen.. Happy Birthday Hazel.. how lovely to touch people in the way she clearly did and still be remembered long after you’ve gone.. That is a reflection of how she lived her life… with love! xx

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    • Thank you so much. I need to remember what you wrote, about a reflection of her life, and hope that one day when my kids read my blog–they WILL read it, right?–they will understand Hazel’s importance to me. ❀

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  • What a lovely post about your great aunt! Hazel sounds like one of those special people that few of us are lucky enough to know. I don’t blame you for hanging on to all her old stuff…it’s a part of her legacy. And the good memories you have of her, and the way she made you feel loved are an even bigger part of that legacy. Thanks for sharing this post, it made me smile!

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    • Thank you, Ann. What I did not want to do to my children is what our parents (inadvertently) did to us: hoard boatloads of stuff that must be sorted. My children won’t know who is in the piles of photos we have, and is the reason I began blogging. It’s simply overwhelming. But, at least I started, right? πŸ˜‰ I can’t throw away any of it, not yet. Glad this made you smile. She was the best. πŸ™‚

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  • Karen, I absolutely loved this post! Thanks for introducing me to Hazel. I loved “meeting” her and seeing the photos. On another note, my mother’s name is Bertha. Also, the dog in the photo with Hazel could almost pass for a twin of our eight year old border collie and constant companion Shadow. Thanks for the post!

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    • Thanks, Gary. So glad you enjoyed meeting our Hazel. Interesting that this dog also reminds me of MY childhood dog that we named Yippi (he was very vocal, ahem), but whose name was in fact Tippy. This dog was their baby, a great companion. They do make great companions. Our Bertha (yes, common name), the youngest sister, lived out of town so I did not know her as well and did not see her as often. I wish I had. She was a carbon copy of their mother, Orah, whom I’ve written about. Spit fire ladies, for sure, all of them. Thanks for stopping by. Have a great week!

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    • Thank you very much. We have been so blessed in that we have boxes and tubs of memorabilia, all from my father’s side. It’s why I began this blog, hoping to document at least some of it for my children. It’s been truly fascinating peeking into their lives. I’m researching someone now who married into the family..a mystery indeed. Thanks for stopping by. πŸ™‚

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  • Oh wow! This made me smile and cry all in one. Hazel sounds like a truly remarkable lady. She was clearly very loved, and still is. It reminded me of my nan and how she made me feel and how much I miss her. I still have boxes of photos and other things that I don’t think I’ll ever part with. Thank you for sharing such a personal, lovely account of a beautiful lady

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    • Thank you so much, and you are most welcome. Leaving no children behind and that my father is gone makes it quite difficult to throw away ANYTHING on paper about her life. Just don’t think I can. Tell me about your nan…sounds like someone I’d like to meet. πŸ™‚

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      • My nan was the most beautiful, loving, kind person you could ever meet but she was not to be crossed lol. There are not enough words to describe her and how she made me feel. I will miss her eternally. Maybe, one day, when I’m as brave as you I will write about her and I will introduce her to you properly. Her name was Alice and I love her very, very much xx

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        • Can you feel my smile now? Your description of your nan, Alice, is how my dad affected me. He was one of the most loving people I’ve ever known, but if you crossed him, he’d have the reason why. And, dad learned this from all these women I’ve been writing about: all four of these spit fire ladies raised him. What a combo personality he was. πŸ™‚ When you are ready, I’d love to read about Alice. ❀

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    • Thanks, Amy. She truly was one of a kind. She was also a little fireball, something I neglected to highlight. Hoping that came through a bit anyway. πŸ™‚

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