Hazel Ethel Coleman, born 7 February 1901 in Calais, Maine was my maternal grandmother, daughter of Hartwell Thomas Coleman and Anna Elisabeth Jensen. I have written a number of past posts about Anna Elisabeth’s Jensen/Johnson family and the lengths to which I went to trace her family in Denmark.
Hartwell and Anna also had one son, Hazen Raleigh Coleman, born 5 February 1895, also in Calais, so they were two days shy of being born exactly six years apart.
I have no photos of Hazen and I don’t think I have ever even seen one. He died when I was a toddler so we never even met.
I also just today realized that I have no photos of Hazel as a child, but I do have many of her as a young adult and then in her later years. This is probably the earliest photo I have of my grandmother. It looks like she was high school aged, so would be around 1916 or so.
The Coleman family had a comfortable life in Calais as Hartwell was a master mariner in an area known for lumber shipped by boat and for boat building. They didn’t live in Calais proper, but in Red Beach, down the road a piece as they say in Maine. Today, Red Beach is an actual part of the city of Calais.
I never thought to ask Hazel to tell me stories about her childhood, but I do remember two that she happened to share. Calais borders St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada with the international bridge connecting the two towns. Hazel said when she was young, the girls would walk across the bridge to shop in St. Stephen. On the way back, the U.S. customs agent would greet them and ask if they had purchased anything that day. The answer was always “no” as they just had a fun day window shopping. When they got home, they would unpin whatever small treasure they bought that day from under their skirts! Back then, it was a bit of harmless fun and no one had much money to spend anyway. In today’s world, that scenario would be viewed through very different eyes.
The second story she shared was of heartbreak and a memory seared into her brain. It was the story of the death of her mother when Hazel was just 15 years old. She said her mother had had some kind of stomach pains, possibly something like appendicitis, but she wasn’t sure. The doctor, who actually passed away not all that many years ago at almost 100 years old and who shall remain nameless. called on the family at home, in the custom of the day. He told Hartwell that Anna needed surgery and proceeded to operate on her in the kitchen. Anna died during the operation. Hazel said she would never ever forget mopping up buckets of blood off the kitchen floor and said the doctor was a total quack. Anna died on 4 Mar 1916.
Life wasn’t the same for the family after that. Hazel stepped up and took over many of the household duties that her mother had done. She never talked about her schooling. In the 1940 census, she reported having finished two years of high school. She and Vernon didn’t marry until Hazel was 19 so an early marriage wasn’t the reason for not finishing high school. I suspect that after her mother died and she had to take over the household chores, it might have been too much to go to school full time, too.
Two years later on 12 September 1918, Hartwell married Lydia Wilson, a young woman who also lived in Calais.
Lydia soon became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter, also named Lydia, on 17 November 1919. Sadly, five days later, mother Lydia died from childbirth complications. Baby Lydia was raised by her maternal grandparents. Although I corresponded with Lydia through the years, I only met her once, in 1981, when I dragged my husband all over New England chasing cemeteries and distant relatives.
Lydia married Thomas DiCenzo and they lived in Calais. Thomas died in a small plane crash in the 1970’s. Lydia passed away on 1 April 2008, only three months before my mother. Thomas and Lydia had no children.
Although they were half sisters, Lydia reminded me a lot of Hazel in both her looks and mannerisms. I guess they both had the Coleman genes!
However, Hazel married my grandfather, Vernon Tarbox Adams, on 19 July 1920 at his parents’ home in Calais.
Vernon and Hazel moved frequently, due to the fact that my grandfather worked for Western Union and he was transferred everywhere from Maine to New Jersey. They had three children, my Aunt Barbara, my mother, Doris Priscilla and my Aunt Carole, who was quite a bit younger than her sisters.
I have wonderful memories of Hazel, who was always called “Grandmother.” She was a no-nonsense kind of person and very musically and artistically inclined, which I now believe she inherited from her great grandfather, Johannes Jensen, the fiddler-drummer career soldier from Copenhagen. She also loved gardening and her backyard was beautifully landscaped with a healthy smattering of home grown foods, such as tomatoes and beans. In their later years, my grandparents took a liking to cruising in the winter to escape Massachusetts winters. I remember we went to see them off on the North German Lloyd ship, Bremen, which sailed out of New York City, maybe around 1960. What I remember most is someone from the ship coming around offering caviar to visiting guests before the ship sailed!
I often visited them at their house at 17 Paul Revere Road, Needham Heights, where they lived until my grandfather retired:
In the 1940’s, my grandparents rented, and later bought, a summer cabin on Little Sebago Lake:
My family spent two weeks each August until I was 16 at the cottage. It was there I learned to swim, picked blueberries and first got up on water skis. There was no running hot water, drinking water had to be collected from well water, heat came from the fireplace and the toilet was outside, but I spent many happy years vacationing there.
When I went off to college at the University of Rhode Island, I took the train or drove up to Massachusetts to visit. My grandmother only lived about an hour and a half away. Whenever I came for the weekend, she had Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese and a vanilla ice cream soda waiting. Those were two foods I loved and only had when I visited Grandmother.
For Thanksgiving 1988, my husband and I took our 11 month old son, Michael, from California back to Massachusetts to meet his great grandmother.
Doris, Linda, Hazel and Michael, Nov. 1988
Michael met his great grandmother one more time, in summer 1993, when he was 5 years old. It turned out that that was the last time I saw Grandmother, too.
Hazel passed away in her sleep on 21 April 1995, two months past her 94th birthday. She was buried at Calais Cemetery next to Grandfather Vernon.