When I was very young my Grandma would take me to Melrose to visit her friend Hazel.
Hazel was a very old woman. Her house had that old woman smell, which to me is not unpleasant. It's a smell that stinks of dust bunnies and old wrinkly skin and cat hair. I know that I am quite alone in my love of this smell. I know.
She had cats. And old furniture. And what seemed like millions of tiny glass figurines - mostly... of cats.
She was a very tall woman, even though her upper back was hunched by her age.
In my later elementary school years Hazel came to live with my Grandparents. She must have been too old to live alone, but at the time I just thought it was great that she was going to be right there for me to play with.
My Grandparent's house was only about 200 yards from my house. Just a short jaunt past the flowering almond tree, over the irrigation ditch, and I was there.
Hazel wasn't necessarily overly attentive to me. I just liked her. I talked to her incessantly when she was doing her needlepoint. Often she would limp outside to sit in the passenger side of my Grandpa's light blue Mazda B2000 pickup in order to soak up the sun through the windows.
I'm sure she would have liked to enjoy her sunbath in peace. To loll peacefully in the sun like her adored cats. But I couldn't let that happen.
I would jump into the driver's seat and ask her where she wanted to go. Invariably she would croak, "Monticarlo!" And off into the imaginary sunset we would go.
When I learned that Monticarlo was not necessarily in the continental United States I just drove over the ocean floor, pointing out sharks and giant clams like the greatest 9-year-old tour guide you can even imagine.
Those were the best road trips of my life.
We never arrived at Monticarlo - if we did then the game would be over.
Later, when I was in Junior High School - specifically sixth and seventh grade - Hazel had to go into the rest home in town for care. She was over 90 years old.
It was long enough ago that lunch hours were our own as students. We were allowed to walk around town as long as we were back in time for class. Most kids walked to the penny candy store or to "Snappy Service" for two for one hot dogs.
I walked across the street to the rest home.
I would go sit with Hazel and listen to her stories. I would gush my own life stories out to her as if she was my 12-year-old equal.
She asked me if I would bomb all the Macaroni and Cheese factories for her. They served it to her all the time and she hated it. I promised I would and we shared a conspiratorial giggle.
Hazel passed away not too long after I got into High School - in a part of town too far away to walk to visit her at lunch. She left me some wonderful things.
The first was a cedar chest made by her father at the turn of the century. It is not just lined with cedar, but made entirely of the red, aromatic wood. The lock plate is hand-hammered copper. It sits in my Mother's house, waiting for a time when I have a house where I have enough room for it.
Another treasure is a friendship ring made of rose gold. It is two snake like creatures that twine around the finger in opposite directions. One has a red gem eye and the other green. The soft metal has been worn for so long that is melded together and smoothed out in places. She must have worn it many years to get it that way.
The last thing is a quilt that was actually made by my Aunt for my birthday two years ago. The squares of the quilt, however, are all needlework that was done by Hazel as she sat at my Grandma's house, with me blathering on and on as she patiently listened - and stitched through time.
I had carefully packed the quilt away so nothing would happen to it, but I have decided to unfold it, air it out and enjoy the comfort and warmth of it.
You have to do that with memories now and then.