“Birch Path” by Hazel Waterman, 1973 (Water Color)
Who was Hazel Waterman? Not exactly a famous painter… What is important to me is that Hazel was my friend. I met her when I was 8 or 9, when my friend Andrea Forsyth took me to visit her. She lived a few blocks away from me in San Carlos, California. She must have been in her 40s or 50s, but I don’t even quite remember what she looked like beyond a vague mental image. Andrea and I stopped to see her almost every day after school. I’m sure she kept us out of lots of trouble (which we got into in our tween years, unfortunately), and we, in turn, kept her company. Her only child, a daughter, had died in a car accident as a teenager and I’m sure she was lonely. Lonely, but never morose. We loved to be with her! We baked cookies with her and there is a certain toy I remember that I can’t name, but it had a whirly red plastic wheel that spun on two rails. I always balked at doing the dishes at home (shame on me!) but was always so eager to do them for Hazel. She took us out for ice cream, and once I spent the night with her when my parents were out of town. If my memory serves me correctly, Hazel painted the “Birch Path” picture for my 10th birthday.
One day Andrea and I arrived at her house, and her husband Gorden gently informed us that Hazel had had a heart attack and was in the hospital. She survived (hallelujah!), but they moved away across the San Francisco Bay to Walnut Creek shortly after that. Eventually, as I found out when I tried to track her down in my college years, she and Gorden retired to South Carolina. I don’t know what has become of her since, if she is even still alive. I did hear from Andrea several years ago, but we’ve lost touch, too.
Why am I writing this? Because Hazel created beauty, not only on paper with water colors, but in two little girls’ lives with love and chocolate chip cookies. And because she lived in the mundane and remained obscure, but I still remember her 35 years later. And because “Birch Path” hangs on my computer room wall to remind me of the power and the wonder of friendship, especially between the generations. And because maybe in 35 years, some once-young-one will nostalgically remember a small kindness you or I have done. Maybe!