Thursday, December 8, 2011

"A Visit With Grandma"

     Now that the Christmas season is upon us, I think about my favorite Christmas movie, Frank Capra's  "It's A Wonderful Life" (1946).  It was on the television the other night and it still makes me cry at the end when all of George's friends and family gather in the front hall singing "Auld Lang Syne" and a small bell starts to ring.  Immediately my memories take me to the funeral mass of my grandmother, Hazel Brossoit.  Not because of the similarities of Grandma B and George Bailey and/or his wife Mary, but because of the angel, Clarence.

This eulogy written by my father, Rollin Glewwe, was given on October 20, 1994.

A Visit With Grandma Brossoit

     "Mark, Barbara, Joan, Bette, and Marvin thank you for sharing your mother with the rest of us this past 86 years.  Omer, thank you for letting us share our memories of Hazel today and for helping us to relive some of the joy you must have known over the years, a joy each of us holds dear, as we say goodbye.
     Hazel was everybody's Grandma...and yet, she had that rarest of qualities that let each one of us know that we were special to her.

     She never had to make a list of her 17 grandchildren and 35 great grandchildren...she knew each one and called each one by name.  In fact, Grandma knew and called just about everybody by name.
     For those of us who were fortunate enough to marry into Hazel's family, we soon discovered that we had a very special friend cheering for us while never interfering with us.  Her grace and charm easily won our hearts and not surprisingly, the hearts of our parents and brothers and sisters as well.
     I know that Hazel felt a deep kinship to Maggie's folks and was saddened at their passing.  Hollis' mom and his sister and brothers all count themselves as friends of Hazel, she was awful easy to like.  Marvel's folks picnicked, visited, played 500 and made Hazel and Omer part of their family...as did many of us.  When Bud and Bette got married, Hazel made sure Ollie, Bud's sister and her family were included as part of the Brossoit circle.  Hazel's extended family was never limited to relatives...company was always treated as family.

     Most folks are content to plant or be a branch of their own family tree.  Not Hazel, she planted an orchard of family trees...look around...you're sitting in Hazel's orchard this morning.  The evidence of her skill as a master gardener is not limited to her prize roses and begonias, but to each of us in this room as she nurtured us, held us in the hands of her gentle heart and helped us all to grow.
     Grandma's life-time partner and best friend, Omer, bought her one of the first television sets in South St. Paul.  A 1950's 12" Philco as I recall...I think Omer still has it.  One of her favorite programs in those days was "I Remember Mama", and Sam Levenson.  Sam was a storyteller and Grandma always loved a good story.  Being of Danish descent, she especially like 'dose about dem Norvegians, Sven and Ollie.'
     Grandma's story is an 'I Remember Mama' Classic.  Born into  a family of eight, Hazel's mother died when Hazel was only eleven.  Her dad, the Stephen, Minnesota Postmaster and her older brothers and sisters raised Hazel themselves for the most part.  They lived by the Tamarac River and many a wintry morning, she and her brothers and sisters would skate to school.  Hazel liked school, did well and attended Bemidji State Teachers College where she was awarded her teaching certificate.
     Her teaching career ended when she married, which was the rule of thumb in those days, and she and Omer started their family.  Economic opportunities were so limited up north, the young couple were forced to move to the cities to look for work.  Relatives and friends put them up until Omer could find a job, save a few dollars and get started.  First he drove truck for Ajax along with his brother-in-law, Bill Anderson.  Later he drove for Armours and then transferred to the loading dock where he reigned as head checker until his retirement.
     Raising a family on $0.325/hr and working about 22 hours a week meant short rations for all.  Rather than complain, Hazel nursed her bedridden father for 7 years while at the same time bearing, raising and nurturing her own family.

     She not only raised her family in those early days, she raised chickens, produce and berries to stock her cupboard for winter.  Canned pheasant and duck were table staples as were fresh-caught fish and home-pickled herring.  Hazel baked fresh bread twice a week, made apple dumplings that were the hit of any luncheon party or special occasion.  Hazel's fried chicken and potato salad recipes have no equal.  To that list someone will add Hazel's headcheese, then another and we'll be here all day.
     Hazel could not only sew on buttons, she could make buttons.  Elegant evening gowns in various stages of creation were often draped from the Jim Dandy ladies torso she kept in the corner of the bedroom.  Oracles of the Royal Neighbors Life Insurance Company took their annual meetings very seriously you see...and a gown was the order of the day.

     Grandma knitted the perfect dishrag, just the right size, just the right weight.  They can even be used left-handed as Joan pointed out to me early in our marriage.  One size fits all she said.



     Experts figure Grandma used over 33 miles of yarn, the equivalent of shearing  100,000 sheep to knit the array of afghans and dish rags she produced over the years.  That doesn't count the number of sheep it took to knit me a pair of size 15 wool socks.

When did she find the time?  Grandma loved to travel and she did.  She was just as at home in the Florida Everglades and the Arizona winter sun as she was in the snow atop the 10,000 foot peaks of Sun Valley, Idaho. A Sunday afternoon at Marvin and Marvel's was always special or a lazy stopover at Mark and Maggie's gazebo eating strawberries and sipping soda or her favorite, iced tea.

     One of her favorite places to travel however, was up to Bette's on Lake Marion.  It was there Omer and Hazel parked their step-van camper, a model of gracious lakeside luxury in our minds, and they challenged the world record by seeing how many relatives, grandchildren, friends and neighbors they could pack into it for a late night game of 21 or just carefree conversation.

     Late mornings and early evenings would find Grandma out on the lake with Omer, slapping sunnies into the boat with one hand while hooking frisky northerns to a stringer with the other.  Fair skinned and susceptible to the sun, Hazel had a collection of fishing bonnets that even the Queen of England would envy.  Grandma loved pets and always had a dog, cat, bird or both with her or close at hand.  Marcoe, her cat visited her in the hospital Sunday and purred goodbye...he knew.

     Civic duty and a love for children won Hazel a string of pearls when she retired from the Washington School PTA.  After serving as Resident President, Official Piano Player for the PTA Rouser and spending 21 years as a Grade School Room Mother, she earned every last one of them.  Twenty one years as a room mother is a school record by the way and it will stand forever . . . they tore the school down last year.

     Grandma was always a Girl Scout and her daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters are walking in her moccasins. 

     Right up there with her string of pearls is her South St. Paul, Mrs. Fixit Trophy.  In this fierce competition she hammered, wired and glazed her way to the top in record time.

     Known lovingly as the Bookmobile Lady, Hazel never read a book or met a young reader she didn't like.  Reminiscent of when she rode with her father in the mail sled, Hazel delivered news to the neighborhoods each week through her book selections, periodicals and requested reading materials.

     Hazel loved old photographs, slide shows, sending tapes overseas, Christmas, birthday parties and big family gatherings.

     Hazel loved baseball.  The old Minneapolis Millers and the St. Paul Saints counted her as one of their most loyal fans.  She would take any Twins loss personally.  She had little time for umpires, whiners, and rug merchants who got to the estate sales before she did on Thursday mornings.  Although she wouldn't tell me to my face, Grandma was suspect of people that didn't get up, pack their lunch and go to work every morning.
     Speaking of lunch...for several years now Hazel and Omer have enjoyed eating their noon meal at the local Old Country Buffet.  They made many friends a on these daily outings and some of the Country Buffet staff is with us today as we say goodbye.

     Grandma Hazel was never a scold, never cross, always forgiving, always long suffering....I have it on good authority that the phrase 'Minnesota nice' was coined to describe her demeanor.

     Mrs. Brossoit...Hazel...Grandma...Grandma Brossoit...Grandma B...a friend, mother, mom whatever you called her, you will have to agree: though she may not have been an angel she sure came close...and I'd like to think that Monday, October 17, 1994 at about 8 PM...having said goodbye to her family and friends...got her wings."



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