Aunt Hazel

(25-27 January 1989) after James Whitcomb Riley

Do you think, Terry, when we get old, we’ll get sentimental about Aunt Hazel? Remember she baked those sticky cinnamon rolls and kept them in a large Tupperware tub, and our whole family used to visit her staying all Sunday afternoon until dinner? Her hair was short and thin, and she was always short of breath, (I hope she wouldn’t take offense) but she was fat, and her humor crinkled into the corners of her blue eyes, playing rummy all afternoon with Mom. Her family had grown and moved away and her first husband had died. She lived in an old country, where women worked but never had jobs. Across the road the redwood trees grew in rings around huge flat stumps. I guess she wasn’t fatalistic, because she loved to gamble. She and her girlfriends never missed bingo. Once after she drove off the road in her Ford, she told me she just bounced around inside, as it rolled down the mountain. Remember the goat that she had tied to the side of the hill behind the house? It stood on the bank eating hazel bushes. I’ve told my friends that those bushes were how Hazel got her name, and that she had always lived there. We swung on the tire under her walnut tree. I remember peeling black tarry shells off walnuts that had fallen to the dirt, little white worms wriggling in the tar, and when I cracked a shell with a rusted hammer, the nut was green and bitter. There was a room over her garage that was full of moldy boxes and cans of rusty nails. Uncle Raymond used to live there. Bees had nested in the wall and they had to tear it down to get them out. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t like the place. It was a four-room shack with peeling wallpaper, several layers of linoleum on the floor, dirt on the windowsills, and Elbert, her husband, who didn’t talk, watched television in the dark living room. I’m afraid I’ll forget these things, or they’ll get all stuck together. I’m afraid I’ll forget where I put them, or leave them behind when I move. As I get older, a larger and larger past has to fit into the same shoe box.