"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Crocheting runs through her life

By on June 26, 2021 in Uncategorized with 0 Comments
Hazel Cleary: Crocheting “gives me something to do. Keeps my hands busy. And I always give things away.” Photo by Linda Blessin

by Vicki Olson Carr

Just about every pioneer family out West had someone who liked to stay busy with knitting needles or a crochet hook and some colorful yarn or a ball of crochet thread. 

But why would anyone take on the daunting task of creating beautiful designs or replicas of famous paintings with a crochet hook?

When I sat down with Chelan resident Hazel Cleary to find out why she has the hobby of doing filet style crocheting, an amazing life story tumbled out of her mouth as if a dam had broken.

Hazel was born at home during the Great Depression. The only doctor in the Twisp-Winthrop area was tied up with another difficult birth. So her father acted as midwife and followed the directions the doctor gave him over the phone.

“Dad said I came out screaming,” Hazel said, wrinkling up her nose and laughing, “and I guess that’s pretty much how I’ve lived my life ever since.”

As the eldest of four siblings, Hazel often had to be a little mother in charge when her mother would slip away for the day and leave the children alone. “I remember standing on a chair and frying potatoes for my Dad to eat when he came home from his day job, before he left for his other job. That was the only thing I knew how to do.”

When Hazel was eight, her two brothers accidentally started a fire in the kitchen while they were making torches out of rolled up newspapers and the fire in the cook stove. She ran two blocks to a neighborhood grocery store for help because nobody else was home. 

Everybody called the older couple who ran the store Grandma and Grandpa, and they helped get the fire department to the house in time to save it. This disaster brought a government social worker to the home who intended to place them in foster homes for their own safety and security.

 “Well, I just told that woman we weren’t going anywhere… and I told her to get back in that car out there and leave us alone!” Hazel’s index finger stabbed the air emphatically, probably just like she did when she was eight.

Hazel went on to explain how her father filed for divorce, got full custody of his children, arranged some child care for them and married Laura who brought her small daughter into the family. 

Soon the family was living in a 27-foot trailer in Moses Lake where Hazel’s father was working to expand the landing strips at Larson Air Force Base. Housing was tight during WWII. “We just did what we had to do,” Hazel said. 

This is the place in Hazel’s story where crocheting crept in. 

Laura and her mother were both handy with a crochet hook, and Hazel was fascinated with this needle art too. “Crochet thread was cheap, and you didn’t need much room to do it,” she explained.

Eventually, Laura got to be called “Mom,” and her mother Lillian moved in with the family and became known as “Grandma.” 

“And just about everybody in the family took up crocheting. Even my Dad,” Hazel added. “He was a leftie and could pick up Grandma’s right-hand crocheting and work on it a while. And it would have the same tension as hers. We didn’t know how Dad could do that, but he did.”

Along with religious themes, such as Faith, above, Hazel crochets playful scenes of kids and animals.

As a teenager, Hazel had some problems, discipline and threats at high school over the issues of diagramming sentences and writing the proofs for algebra problems, so she dropped out of school. 

Her father often took her and her sister to Saturday night dances at a little crossroads village between Moses Lake and Soap Lake.

One night, a young man named Kenny walked up to her father and asked, “May I dance with your daughter?”

“Which one?” was the response he got. 

Hazel remembers how Kenny pointed at her. And that was the beginning of the romance leading to a marriage that produced two sons and one daughter. “And I was 37 when Kenny died… I had him for 20 years and five months,” and then she told the horrible story of how Kenny’s heart was compromised during an industrial accident at Rock Island’s Keokuk plant.

During all this time, Hazel was crocheting. She made doilies to place under vases and lamps. She crocheted tablecloths and large bedspreads for gifts. “One of my friends was getting married. She said, ‘Oh my God!’ when she opened the package with the large table cloth I crocheted for her.”

The next chapter of this energetic woman’s life was another happy time. 

She married her husband’s best friend, Jesse, and they lived for a time in East Helena, Montana where they joined the Eagles club. With her children grown and time and energy on her hands she became president of the Eagles auxiliary, and eventually moved through the state offices of the organization as well.

Hazel got the nickname of “Hazelnut” at a CB radio club meeting in Grand Coulee where the couple also lived for a time. 

And Hazel’s teenage idea to become a nurse one day was partly fulfilled when she took an EMT class, passed the test to become certified and served the community as an EMT for five years. Then the couple took to the road in their RV, enjoying life and retirement until Jesse’s death after 27 of what Hazel remembers as happy years.

Throughout all this time, Hazel crocheted. 

“It gives me something to do. Keeps my hands busy. And I always give things away,” she adds. 

In the past few decades, Hazel has been creating words and graphics with her crochet hooks, called filet crocheting.

“I gave my first filet crochet of a copy of Michelangelo’s painting, The Last Supper, to my church in East Helena. I got into it because the pictures say something.” 

Hazel has crocheted four copies of this painting, which require months of work. The design on graph paper measures 27.5 inches by 20 inches, in other words 550 inches to count and crochet accurately. The latest rendition hangs in the Baptist church on Woodin Avenue in Chelan.

Hazelnut has a photo album of her favorite filet crochet designs: a frog sitting on a lily pad, a dog’s head and a cat sitting in a quiet pose which she gave to pet lovers, intricate pineapple configurations. 

She gave to me a delicate work called Strong Faith, depicting the resurrection cross with a ladder to heaven behind it.

For a lively, slim, fast-minded, fast-moving, fast-talking city of Chelan resident who has been kicked around a bit by life, it’s not surprising that Hazel Cleary would find joy and comfort while creating beauty and artful treasures with simply a Size 9 crochet hook and some No. 10 ivory-colored crochet thread.

Vicki Olson Carr’s favorite winter pastimes include embroidering 

pillow cases and creating cozy 

quilt tops from bargain fabrics 

she finds at thrift shops and 

local rummage sales.

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