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POINT OF VIEW: Lessons Across Time

Hazel Coatsworth

My Grandma Hazel was a hoarder.

I mean that in the best way. She knew from harsh experience how quickly you could lose it all, and life taught her the importance of valuing every little thing.

Born in 1919 the middle of the Spanish Flu pandemic, she was ten years old when the Great Depression hit. She survived not only that perilous time, but the Second World War with its shortages and horrors. She married my grandpa John in 1942, in the midst of the war.

She passed away at the grand old age of 95 in 2014, and I am glad she didn’t live to see what Trump has done to our country.

Still, I think about her often.

She found the worth in small things – pictures clipped out of magazines, store containers that could be re-used, even oranges from her tree in the back yard that would “keep” on the back porch in the winter for weeks.

It seems like she held on to everything, but she always had a tidy house. It was all tucked away in her pantry and various closets. Once time I asked her why she was keeping some old styrofoam egg cartons; she showed me how they could be used with a couple other materials to make festive Easter chicks.

She was the consummate church wife, cooking up a storm for the Church bake sales, and she was also a Home Ec teacher in her own right, running the Tucson Unified School District’s entire Home Ec department.

In our home office, I have a small poster of a bowl of strawberries and creme, mounted inside a clear plastic box, that used to hang over her kitchen table on the white brick wall. Every time I see it, I am reminded of her and her warm smile and generous spirit.

I think of her often, these days. She would have some lessons for us, for what we are going through at the moment, earned from her time living through the Great Depression and the war that followed. here’s what I think she would tell me.

  1. Always Be Kind: She never had a harsh word to say about others, and went out of her way to say a kind word when it was needed.
  2. Everything Has a Use: As I mentioned above, she saved everything. We have learned the importance of this the hard way. Like my grandmother before me, we have taken to saving plastic and glass containers with lids, both to freeze meals when we make extra but also to transfer food out of its store-bought materials.
  3. Do What You Can to Help: She was the embodiment of what Christianity should be. She helped everyone, even taking in an ex-con and helping him get his life on track (including replacing his meth-damaged teeth and helping him get training to become a cook, and maybe eventually a chef).
  4. Be Grateful for What You Have (And What You Can Get): Grandma Hazel lived in a small brick house with red shag carpet in a lower income neighborhood in Tucson. Though we once owned a big house in a rich suburb, we now rent from a friend in a place a quarter of the size. But Mark and I have a roof over our head, some money in the bank, and food on the table. We have access to a grocery store that does curbside pick-up. Often they don’t have what we ordered, or they substitute it with something we didn’t plan for. This is all small stuff. We have food, and that’s what matters. So many don’t right now.
  5. Treasure Your Family: Grandma Hazel never missed a birthday. Every year I got a birthday card with a long hand-written note (in her left-handed cursive). As the oldest of my generation, I have carried on this tradition (though my notes are a bit shorter LOL).
  6. This Too Shall Pass: Grandma Hazel was unflappable. She had survived a couple of the worst events in our recent history, and she learned the hard way that time would eventually carry her through. She would tell us to be patient, and that nothing lasts forever.

I like to think that she is still watching over me and my family, and that she smiles when she sees her bowl of strawberries on our wall, next to my desk.

There’s one more thing I think she would tell me:

Don’t forget to find a little joy in every day.

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