Hazel Ethel Coleman Adams was a special lady. She was always “Grandmother” – not Nana or Granny or Grandma – and she was an elegant, artistic, musical very special lady.
Hazel Ethel Coleman was born 7 February 1901 in Calais, Maine, the daughter of Hartwell Thomas Coleman and Anna Elisabeth Jensen/Johnson. Today is the 114th anniversary of her birth.
I once asked her how she got her middle name. She said she was named for her father’s little sister, Ethel, who died as a child. I never thought to ask her where Hazel came from, even though I always thought it a bit comical that her only brother was named Hazen. Although I have many family photos, I have none of my grandmother when she was a little girl. I never asked her about that either.
Hazel grew up in Calais, although she lived in Massachusetts for a short time around 1920. She married my grandfather, Vernon Tarbox Adams, who she always called “Ducky,” on 19 July 1920 at Vernon’s parents’ home in Calais. I’ve never seen any photos from their wedding and I don’t think any were ever taken.
After my grandparents married, they moved frequently up and down the East Coast between Maine and the New York metropolitan area because my grandfather worked for Western Union and he was often transferred.
World War II is a bit before my time, but Grandmother did her part for the war cause, volunteering and serving with the Red Cross.
This was my grandparents’ home on Paul Revere Road in Needham Heights, Massachusetts for almost 20 years and is the home that produced most of my memories.
I do have wonderful memories of all the time I spent with Grandmother. As far as I know, she never had any special training in music or art, although she took local lessons. For as long as I can remember, she had a large black piano in the basement and she would play beautiful songs on it. I used to love listening to her play. I have faint memories of her showing me how to read basic music and trying to play some simple songs, but I never got very far with it. She and my grandfather moved when he retired in 1965. The piano went to the new house with them and had its place of honor downstairs.
She also loved to paint, at least decorative painting. She had several pieces of furniture that were painted with a decided Asian influence, like this piece that was in the dining room.
She didn’t restrict herself to any one style, though. I think in the 1940’s or 1950’s, there was a time when tole tray painting was popularly taught in classes. Hazel painted this tray, which I now own:
I didn’t know it at the time, but apparently this art work was done by stenciling.
My grandparents had a cottage on Little Sebago Lake in Maine and, every summer, we drove from New Jersey to Maine and spent two weeks at the cottage.
The cottage was rustic, to say the least. There used to be an outhouse down the path from the cottage until my grandfather built a tiny bathroom (toilet and sink with very cold water) attached to the cottage, but we had to go outside to use it.
However, summer was lots of fun. I remember going to the beach across the water from the cottage to play in the sand and swim.
The property had lots of blueberry bushes on it and when I was bored, I was always given a bowl and told to go fill it with blueberries. This was great fun for a little kid.
Grandmother would always make fresh blueberry pies with them. The pies smelled wonderful and I’m sure everyone tried to get me to eat a piece. I’ve always been a picky eater – I still am – and, to this day, I don’t like blueberries.
I also grew up loving the song “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?” because we had a bed time ritual. My grandfather built a guest cabin about 100 feet or so across from the cottage. My parents, brother and I slept there. Every night, I would get ready for bed and Grandmother would come sing to me and it was ALWAYS “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?”
After looking up when the song was first released by Patti Page – January 1953 – I imagine that Grandmother started singing it to me right away as I am a child of the 50’s.
I also remember taking lots of fun boat rides on Little Sebago. Grandfather always drove the boat, but we would go all over the lake for as long as a pre-schooler could enjoy it. Once a summer, Grandmother and Grandfather would take a long boat ride – a couple of hours long – and, although I remember asking, I was never allowed on those rides when I was little and wasn’t much interested in that long a ride when I was older.
There was one trip I was always allowed on – the weekly trip to get fresh drinking water. Not only was the water from the faucets very cold, it was also not potable. Each week, we would get in the car and drive not too far – maybe a half an hour toward Portland – and stop at a roadside spring and fill up the water containers for the upcoming week.
I have one other memory at the lake when I was small. My brother was 2 or 3 years old, so it must have been about 1959 or 1960. I loved my grandmother, but she was a no-nonsense kind of person and one behaved and followed directions when in her home. There was a screen door on the two doors that went outside from the cottage and I had been well trained not to let the screen door slam when I went out. My brother wasn’t yet quite so well trained. After he had let the screen door slam one too many times, Grandmother headed outside to scold him. I adored my baby brother and was very protective of him and remember telling him not to worry because I wouldn’t let “that mean Grandmother” do anything to him.
That comment probably didn’t sit too well with either my grandparents or parents, but I don’t remember any consequences from it.
Grandmother kept an old doll carriage in her basement. It probably belonged to my youngest aunt, but I remember it seeming very old even when I was little so it may have also been used by my older aunt and my mother.
Grandmother’s house always looked beautiful at Christmas time, especially the fireplace mantle. She loved decorating for the holiday and her artistic flair was always evident.
When I was seven, I remember going to visit my grandparents over Easter vacation. I think my mother took me up on the train and then my grandparents were to take me back the following weekend. At least that was the plan.
That’s me coloring in my Easter finery with my cousin next to me and Aunt Pearl, actually my grandfather’s aunt, in the background. When I was first asking my grandmother about family stories, she told me how much she was looking forward to having me visit for the whole week and had made lots of fun plans. Right after this picture was taken, I got came down with German measles and wanted Mommy, who was 200 miles away in New Jersey. She said we got through the week, but all the carefully made plans went out the window.
When I was a little older, about seven, I remember hearing a knock at our door and I went to look out the window to see who was there. My mother was probably in the kitchen and she asked me who was knocking. I distinctly remember telling her Grandfather and Grandmother and also remember her not believing me. Grandfather was on one of his Western Union trips and Grandmother had come with him so she could visit with us. This is one of the only times I remember my grandparents coming to visit us in New Jersey, as we always headed to New England for summer vacation.
By the way, you can’t see much of it, but if you read my post about Nammie’s Rocking Chair and How I Almost Lost It in December for Dear Myrtle’s contest, Grandmother and I are sharing Nammie’s rocker. Only the left top edge of it is visible.
My grandfather passed away in December 1968, when I was a junior in high school. At that point in their lives, my grandparents had been taking Caribbean cruises each year in February. My grandmother didn’t take a trip anywhere in the winter of 1969, but that summer, she asked me if I would rather go to Hawaii or Europe in February 1970 as a high school graduation gift. I chose Europe, but I have no photos of her from that trip. That’s because she had a cold when we left and, by the time we arrived in Spain, she felt worse and the cold turned into pneumonia. We had a one week ground tour, which she spent in bed in the hotel, and then spent a week on an Italian cruise ship. The ship’s doctor treated her, but it was an adventure because he didn’t speak English and neither of us spoke Italian. He did speak Spanish, though, and I was in the middle of my 4th year of high school Spanish so Spanish it was. Grandmother was allergic to penicillin and was deathly afraid that he was going to give her a penicillin shot. All went well medically speaking, but she saw little of Europe on that trip.
After high school, I went to the University of Rhode Island and, several times a year, I took the train to Massachusetts to visit for the weekend. By that time, my grandmother had been living in her house in Canton for several years and had spent many hours tending to her garden. She was a great gardener and had plants for every season. My husband, Dave, likes to garden and he was amazed at everything she had growing.
On these weekend college visits, Grandmother always had Stouffers macaroni and cheese and homemade vanilla ice cream sodas (made with old fashioned cream soda) waiting, which we both loved.
I didn’t see nearly as much of Grandmother after that, as I moved to California in 1979 and we didn’t make a lot of trips back east. We did make one special trip for Thanksgiving 1989 so Grandmother could meet her newest great grandchild, our son, Michael. We took a four generation photo, but I wish we had taken several.
We took Michael back for one more visit in 1994 and he still has vague memories of the visit. By this time, Grandmother had a new name. The next generation was to call her “Great Grand mama” with the accent on the last “a.”
This was the last time I saw Grandmother. She passed away in her sleep the following year on 21 April 1995 at the age of 94 years and 2 months.
My only regret is that, while Grandmother was very interested in her family history – her mother was Danish and gave me my Danish-Swedish lines – technology wasn’t far enough advanced by 1994 for me to be able to make any headway finding her roots in Denmark and Sweden. She would be so pleased to see that the Danish and Swedish branches on the family tree have flourished.
Happy Birthday, Grandmother! Love, Linda