Hazel the Hero

Hello, I’d like to introduce you to Hazel.

Hazel the Hero

Oh, no, wait. If you’ve read Blessing of the Lost Girls, you’ve already met Hazel. That little barky dog is the only entity in that whole Tucson RV park who instantly recognizes Charlie for the monster he is. The difficulty, of course, is that it takes everyone else a long time to figure out what she’s trying to tell them.

(By the way, I’ve studied that sentence for quite some time, worrying if the word entity should be referred to with the pronoun who or that Grammarians with more expertise than I will have to sort that one out, but I digress.)

People who read my blogs know that when I’m writing books and need to name a new character, I often go shopping through my memory bank. The name Lefty Lefthaut comes to mind, although right this minute I can’t remember in which Joanna Brady book he made his cameo appearance. So that was what I did when it came time to name that little pup in Blessing—I went shopping in my personal history book.

As far as blessings are concerned, one of the great ones in my life has been my almost lifelong friendship with Pat McAdams Hall. We met in fourth grade. She lived half a block from me if I cut through Mrs. Corbett’s yard. To follow the streets down Yuma Trail and then up Cole Avenue to Campbell, it would have been closer to a half mile walk.

There were two kids in the McAdams household, Pat and her brother Ted. There were seven kids in ours. Pat had a bedroom of her own. The Busk kids were stacked cheek by jowl in one. Unsurprisingly Pat and I did most of our playing at her house. Her mother, Thelma, like mine, was a stay-at-home mom. Her dad, Mac, worked for Phelps Dodge.

In Miss Stammer’s fifth grade class, Pat and I ate garlic pickles at home at lunchtime and spent each afternoon reeking of garlic. We also passed notes back and forth on a clothes hangar at the back of the room. If Miss Stammer saw us, she never let on. (By the way, this was back in the Fifties. Miss Stammer was definitely a MISS! Floyd Lucero was the troublemaking the kid she muscled out of her room by his shirt collar.)

In high school Pat and I were co-editors of the school newspaper, The Copper Chronicle. Our senior year we were both hauled on the carpet for passing a petition asking that Linda, a classmate who was married and expecting her second child. be allowed to graduate with the rest of us. Eventually my father was informed by the superintendent of schools that I had been selected to receive a scholarship to the University of Arizona. He was told that I would receive it, but only on the condition that Pat and I stop passing that petition. We stopped. I received the scholarship. Linda was not allowed to walk through graduation. She received her diploma in the mail. Decades later, at a book signing in Tucson, Linda’s brother came up to the table, introduced himself and said, “I’m Linda’s brother. Our whole family knew what you tried to do back then. Thank you.” Whoops, there you go, yet another digression.

But that’s some of the texture to Pat’s and my connection. We were both good students. She had boyfriends in high school. I didn’t. She went to NAU in Flagstaff. I went to the U of A in Tucson. I finished in four years. She took a slight detour, married, and had a baby, but she graduated a year or so later than I did. We both became teachers. Teaching didn’t last for me, but it did for her, and she loved teaching kindergarten.

For a number of years her husband’s job took her in and out of the country. Although we stayed in touch occasionally, we weren’t that close. We came back together in the nineties when I learned through Pat’s mother that her second marriage had come to a sudden, unexpected end. In actual fact, with her living in Florida and me in Washington State, sending emails was a lot less expensive than making long distance telephone calls. Those back-and-forth emails between us were some of the first ones I ever sent, and they firmly re-established our friendship.

As I said, Pat loved teaching kindergarten. When she retired in 2014, one of her students came from a family that bred and raised miniature poodles. The gifted Pat with one of their puppies as a retirement present. That puppy was the Hazel you see in the photo.

A number of years ago, Pat suffered a stroke and lay on the kitchen floor for the better part of twenty-four hours. She was in and out of consciousness at times before she managed to drag herself into the bedroom and pull the cord to her landline phone off the night stand. The whole time she was crawling, Hazel was there, licking her face and encouraging her. And when the EMTs showed up Hazel was on top of Pat and wouldn’t let them near her. A neighbor finally came and collected her. I’m sure poor Hazel was frantic at that time, and no doubt she was equally distressed during the time Pat was hospitalized and in a rehab facility, but she made an important contribution to Pat’s post-stroke recovery by spending hours each day snoozing in Pat’s lap.

During all this time, I never actually met Hazel in person, but when I needed to name that little miniature poodle in Blessing, that’s the name that came to mind. After reading the book, Pat let me know that I had Hazel down to the letter because she barked like crazy at strange men who happened to turn up in Pat’s and Hazel’s orbit. Just for the record, she always barked at Pat’s ex as well.

This past week, Hazel went into kidney failure. With a breaking heart, Pat did the right thing. So far I know of two people who have made donations to shelters in Hazel’s honor, and I’ll be doing the same.

The fictional Hazel tried to warn people that there was a monster hiding in their midst. The real one stood by her mistress when she was trapped on the floor by a massive stroke.

In my book, that makes both of those canine Hazels tiny heroes.