So, somebody grabs you by the elbow and tells you that a book written by a little old lady who looks like Mrs. Santa Claus is really well written. Then the elbow-grabber adds that it is the first book the little old lady has ever written, that it was self-published, and that if you want to buy a copy, you can get it only at Horton Hardware in Afton, Henry’s Diner, or directly from the author.
You respond by saying … what?
“Let go of my elbow, you lunatic! Have you lost your mind?”
New scenario: I am holding a book in my hand. It is called “Remembering Hazel & Ed,” and it was written by Edna Lockwood, the aforementioned octogenarian. I am not Edna’s daughter, publicist, next-door neighbor, or friend, and I am telling you: This is a damn good book! Buy it! Read it! Give it as a gift to your parents, your children, your siblings, your friends.
It is memoir about Edna’s parents, Hazel and Ed Angle, and it is part adventure story, part disaster movie (how many fires can one family endure?), part psychological study, and part paean to the human sprit. Specifically, to Edna’s mother’s indomitable spirit.
Clearly, Hazel is Edna’s hero. After we finish the last page of the book, she is our hero, too.
I could tell you that the book starts out in a thrillingly terrifying way with a devastating fire in which Hazel’s four-year-old grandchild dies after being enveloped in flames. Or how, after an explosion involving an acetylene torch, Hazel’s son-in-law dies in a fire, too. Or the third fire that burns their life savings and everything that they owned. Or even the fourth fire that started in a baby chick incubator in which their entire house was “pretty much consumed.”
Instead, I will let you eavesdrop on Edna after that fourth fire.
“As I watched my mother that morning, I had wanted to comfort her but before I could find the words, she straightened her shoulders … and watching the last wisps of smoke rising in the morning air, she quipped, ‘No breakfast this morning. The one I had prepared is a mite overcooked’.”
With such understated elegance and in such a manner do we meet and fall in love with Hazel Angle. But we’re only on page three! There are still so many stories left to hear, so many virtues left to discover, and so many adventures left to endure.
A few insights into Hazel’s beginnings, what she became, and what she had to overcome: She was born prematurely in 1888 weighing only one and one-half pounds. She was illegitimate. She was a hunchback.
Edna envisioned a conversation between newborn Hazel and the world:
“The world said, ‘I’m out here, Hazel and I am tough’.”
“And Hazel replied, ‘Don’t get smart with me, buster, I have won the first round’.”
As I look through the photographs and pages in this affectionate memoir, I am stunned by how much Edna Lockwood was able to pack into a relatively short volume. Each page seems to deserve its own mini-series, and the style in which the tales are told is suggestive of Little House on the Prairie meets Pollyanna.
Why Pollyanna? Well, a few more insights into incredible Hazel.
After she married Ed (and in between fires), they were incredibly poor. They lived in dirt floor houses, farms with no running water or electricity, a shack, a chicken house, and a garage. Hazel toiled endlessly on the farm, splitting wood, milking cows, shoveling cow manure, and working in the hayfields. One winter she helped to cut 100 tons of mine props...whatever that is. Hazel also had a job as a chambermaid at the Hotel Monoquaga (now the Chestnut Inn) a few miles from Deposit. One Monday morning after a weekend at home when she couldn’t get a ride, she walked twenty-five miles from North Afton to get to work. “She was not one to shirk her duty. Also, she would lose a day’s pay and we couldn’t afford that.”
Surviving the workload alone – she was only five feet tall and weights 100 pounds – would have made Hazel extraordinary. It is her buoyant spirits, though, that make our own spirits soar. In a delightful passage about the house without indoor plumbing, Edna writes, “Her sense of humor kept her on an even keel. One cold day, as she ran from the springhouse with a pail of water she said, ‘See, I have running water!’”
My favorite chapter occurs when Hazel wants to go to town, but her stubborn husband refuses to give her a ride. So she engineers a high-comedy escape that begins when she assigns Edna the job of get-away driver, “Get this car started and out on the road,” and ends with sassy Hazel relaxing gleefully after their adventure, “her feet upon the dashboard, a smile on her face, her head thrown back and … smoking a Pall Mall.”
Got to love that woman.
There is more. Much, much more. But you’ll have to find out for yourself. In the meantime, look down at your elbow. Observe that I am tugging at it. Give yourself a real treat. Edna Lockwood lives in Afton. Her phone number is in the book. Call her. She will tell you where you can buy “Remembering Hazel & Ed.” Maybe she’ll even sell you a copy herself. You won’t be sorry. I promise.
Shelly Reuben has been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. She is an author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit www.shellyreuben.com.
Copyright © 2010, Shelly Reuben