Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Grandma Hazel

“Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”  2 Corinthians 5:6-8

My Grandma Hazel died on Saturday.  Went home for Easter, I suppose.  I woke up Saturday thinking that she would probably die that night because the next day was Easter, so when my Dad called about 6:30 pm, I really wasn’t surprised at all.  We lost Grandma Hazel a number of years ago, really.  Dementia took her from us.  She wasn’t who she used to be, who we really remembered as our Grandma. 

Several years ago, before she entered an assisted living facility.  The family had an auction of all her personal effects.  Family members got what they wanted out of the house, but the rest was auctioned off to the public.  Everyday common crap really.  Nothing really special. 

I had wanted pictures from her house.  I’d heard for 30 years that she had pictures of my brothers that died in infancy.  I found them hiding in a chest of drawers along with a lifetime of pictures of people I knew and didn’t know.  Pictures are a high commodity to me, as I don’t have as many as I used to due to my house flooding while I was a teenager several times.  I also took pictures of my cousins and other family members, leaving behind the vast majority.  I wish I’d taken more.  I wonder what happened to the rest of the pictures now.  Probably got thrown away. 

Anyway, the skull up there is a treasured reminder of Grandma Hazel to me.  It is an ashtray.  I guess you put your cigarettes in the glasses.  Why would a skull need glasses?  Why would Grandma Hazel have an ashtray?  She didn’t ever smoke that I knew of.  I always assumed it belonged to my Grandpa Taylor who died before I was born.

This ashtray sat on an end table beside the couch where Grandma Hazel always sat with her crochet.  She’d watch Days of our Lives just about every day, and was hardly ever without something to crochet in her hands.  I can remember her holding me on her lap while she crocheted.  She taught me to crochet when I was five.  And where did she keep her crochet hooks?  Here in the back of this ashtray.

So when we went through the house to see what I wanted to take, I purposely left the ashtray.  Surely someone other than I would want it for sentimental reasons.  One of my aunts probably. 

The day of the auction came, and I went.  Not because there was really anything in particular that I wanted, but because I wanted to see how it all turned out.  Grandma Hazel had a huge Budeweiser picture of Custer’s Last Stand behind her stove my whole life and we all thought it might bring quite a bit of money, even though we all thought it to be hideous.  Another leftover from Grandpa Taylor, I always assumed.  Some man bought it because his dad had had one just like it in his barber shop when he was a kid.  He paid $500 for it and felt compelled to make a speech after.  He said, “This is going in my house, and it ain’t EVER coming out!”  Glad he liked it! 

As I walked around, I saw more stuff that had been stuffed away in closets that I remembered.  I was looking through boxes when, lo and behold, there was the ashtray – the head, as I call it – crochet hooks still sticking out the back.  I guess no one else waxed nostalgic over the skull like I did.  But it was up for sale!  To strangers!  I had to have it!  I couldn’t just go stealing it out of the box.  The auctioneers had all the stuff inventoried.  And the money from the auction was going towards Grandma Hazel’s long-term care.  What if this ashtray was worth more than that Budweiser picture?  How was I to know? 

So I hung around waiting on the box to come up for sale.  In the meantime I bought her sewing cabinet for $20 because I didn’t want furniture dealers to have it.  I bought a little dilapidated wooden bench that always sat beside her bed, and I bought a pair of ceramic chickens that always sat up on a shelf in her kitchen.  Better for me to have those things than people to whom they only had resale value.  And probably little of that! 

So the time comes for the box that contained the head to be sold.  It was in a line of six boxes that contained all kinds of stuff.  Two boxes of mason jars.  One box full of old quilt squares.  And a few cardboard boxes best described as miscellany.  I even tried to kind of hide it in the bottom of the box under a doily, but auction goers are pretty undeterred by such things as a doily.  One lady even looked at it. 

The auctioneer announced that we would be bidding for “choice box” in this round.  Tension mounted.  I was sure everyone there was interested in MY box.  I had worked out in my mind that I’d try to get it for five or six dollars, so I wasn’t just going to go crazy!  The bidding started and I had some stiff competition, but when my final bid of $5 was topped with one for $6, I stopped just as I’d promised myself I would do.  The other lady had won.  The auctioneer asked her which box she wanted and she took…

The big box of mason jars.

Whew!  I still had a chance! 

I assumed we’d be bidding on our choice of boxes again, but the auctioneer announced that we would be “cleaning up” this lot!  Great!  Now I’d be bidding on the rest of the boxes all at once!  More tension! 

Bidding started again, and I stuck true to my decision and only went up to $6.  But this time, it was enough!  I’d won the whole lot!  Junk boxes and all! 

A lady standing near to me came up and said, “Did you really want those mason jars?”

“No,” I said.  “I only wanted this,” and I reached in the box and pulled out the head.

She laughed and said, “How much do you want for the jars?” 

“Three dollars?”

“Sold!” she said, paying me, and quickly carted off at least part of my loot.

Later, I made a couple of lap blankets for Grandma Hazel to use while she was in managed care, but even those have been returned to me.  Some junk just keeps coming back.    

It’s funny to think how we all treasure our personal effects so much, but yet what would be left after the auctioneers come through?  Those things we think of as being sentimental to others, might not really be what they associate with the person at all.  And to think that something purchased for only $3, net the mason jars, could become one of my prized possessions!

Here’s to all my memories of Grandma Hazel.  I’ll be sharing more in the weeks to come.  May she rest in peace with the Lord until we are all reunited, and may her memory live on forever in our hearts.


  1. Your writing is wonderful. I truely felt like I was there - seen through the eyes of the skull, vision shapened by those spectacles.

  2. She was a nice lady, sad to hear of her passing. Loved the story, felt the same way about things of my grandparents that were trash to other people, but I would have loved to have. Unfortunately, they were trashed and I had no say in the matter, so sad. Glad you got the skeleton and the memories to go with it.


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