Hazel - The Girl with the Grasshopper Leg
Hazel missed her mother so much, the mother with the enormous brown eyes and perfect posture. She remembered how her mother carried herself gracefully throughout her home, how she would reach down with her caring touch and lift Hazel up to nuzzle her nose. At six years old, Hazel was told that her mother would not be coming back home, that stomach cancer had taken her from this world. Within months her forty year old father had married the seventeen year old girl hired to take care of his four daughters as his wife’s life slowly came to an end. The teenage girl was already pregnant with his child and despised Hazel and her sisters. Life at home was going to quickly change for Hazel.
The pain in Hazel’s ankle throbbed up her leg as if a knife had pierced her fragile skin. Quietly she sat on the ground examining her ankle where she had fallen down the old wooden stairs off the front porch. As she slipped backward down the stairs, the back of her ankle scraped along the splintering wood. Her ankle burned with pain and the skin looked red and raw. She wanted to call out for her mother to quickly come to help her or she wanted to make her way into the house to have her mother care for and comfort her.
In most homes the mother would wash the scrape with a soapy cloth and apply mercurochrome or liniment and rock the little girl until her tears subsided. But this was not the normal home and the mother who would have taken such painstaking care of her had died not long before.
In the days and weeks that followed, Hazel’s leg swelled and soon became streaked with ruby red lines that ran swiftly up toward her torso, past her calf, and past her knee, and to her thigh. Hazel continued to be sent outside every day without any attention to the wound.
Time went on until Hazel’s grandmother came to the house to see how the children were doing in the care of a teenager. With one look the grandmother knew that Hazel’s blood had been slowly poisoned from the infection in the wound. Terrified that Hazel may die, her grandmother took her to one of the few doctors in that little Appalachian town in Ohio.
Over the coming weeks and months the doctor “bled” her knee to remove the poisons. The painful process left small deep caves in the skin of the area around her knee. These were deep wounds painfully inflicted by a doctor who was doing only what he knew to do. The little girl writhed in pain at night, holding her knee to her chest, rocking back and forth and crying, her sisters trying to comfort her. Her knee fused in that awful crooked bent position and there it remained for the rest of her life. Her leg looked like that of a grasshopper.
Her stepmother told her that no man would ever want to marry her and that she would never be able to have children, much less to care for them. Against all odds Hazel maintained an optimistic spirit and strength of character and she became a kind, gentle, and loving young woman.
Mace had been drafted into the Army in 1917 and he was among the soldiers who fought in the bloodiest and final battle of the war. Mace fell in love with the beautiful girl with the grasshopper leg the moment he saw her. They were married and despite her stepmother’s cynicism about her ability to bear and care for children, her finest moments were to come in motherhood.
Hazel and Mace welcomed six children into their household; a boy they named Jack, born in early December 1923 when Hazel was nineteen years old. Four more children came in rapid succession – another boy, Gene, just eighteen months after Jack; then three girls – Aileen, Melva, and Margie, and the baby, Errol. Melva was my mother. The little girl with the grasshopper leg was my grandmother.
In all of her days, 88 years to be exact, she never thought of herself as disabled and for that reason no one else did either. I grew up loving Hazel, my grandmother. She had a wonderful way of making every one of her grandchildren feel special. She was determined to teach me to knit, a skill she had learned since she was limited physically. From the time I was seven years old, she would sit right beside me, adeptly placing my small hands in hers as I held two knitting needles and one long strand of yarn. Hour after hour she sat with me encouraging me to knit as far as the yarn would go and then unravel it to begin again.
Her determination was something I admired, but it was her generous spirit that has stayed with me. The most valuable legacy she left to me was her compassion and patience for others.
She would regularly give and give and give to the tiny community where she lived until her 88th year, long after Mace had passed away. She fed the homeless men who rode the trains through the town, swapping the ride on the train car for her home-cooked meals and her kindness. She knit a sweater for every single child born in that town for well over 60 years. To this day, as I sit down to knit in the early morning hours on Oak Tree Farm, I can feel her presence beside me, encouraging me. Her memory brings me peace.
The little grasshopper girl who had so much to give was the Provenance of our family. It is why we are committed to providing blankets and sweaters to the homeless. Hazel’s love and compassion will live on in every sweater knitted by hand and in every blanket that wraps around the shoulders of a homeless member of our communities during the cold of the winter. Her love will live on in the baby sweaters for newborns and blankets for the homeless.
- Susan Rabern, Owner Provenance Mill Clothiers and Oak Tree Farm