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 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. 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.
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.”
About that purchase? When going through Hazel’s things I came across this record of the home purchase.
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.
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.
As 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.
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.
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.
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. ❤
Hazel de Helen Butterfield Kasae
May 1, 1902- June 16, 1982
Those papers? They are still in the box….