Stanwood in the fall
by Susan London
Special to the Weekly
A few weeks ago, I spent a sunny afternoon in Stanwood.
My friend Hazel Booth, a Duvall resident, had a hankering to cruise the old hometown and I had promised her last spring we'd drive up there together.
Stanwood is so small it hardly qualifies as a town, but I like poking my curious nose into quaint, old places and the idea that Hazel could act as tour guide was irresistible ‹ almost as irresistible as Hazel is herself.
First, I should tell you that Hazel is not your idea of an average girlfriend. She's diminutive, probably doesn't come up to my shoulders and I'm not tall.
She has pretty blue eyes, curly light hair that frames her face like a halo and a smile that would light all of Montana ‹ or Washington. She has the cutest little giggle and is surprisingly spry and lively for her 94 years.
She's been a widow for 35 years and has no children, but that hasn't stopped her from pitching in to help other families. Hazel was a nanny for her niece for two years when her niece divorced. She chauffeured an elderly neighbor in Monroe for ten years and always helped without pay whenever her family needed her. She is quite a remarkable woman.
We drove up to the town, which looked as if everyone was either gone for the day or sleeping.
She excitedly pointed out what used to be the Pearson General Store. It is still standing after 100 years. The commercial buildings seemed neat and well-kept, some with historical signs in front. She pointed out the road up the hill which was paved with red brick. Another road had been paved over, but we agreed it was probably smoother that way.
She began with the story of her uncle, Andrew Tackstrom. He had come to Washington in about 1893 with his family to open a harness and shoe repair shop. After several years, his wife and two teenage daughters suddenly came down with diphtheria and died. Left with just his son, he asked his brother, August, to come out from Nebraska to help him.
So Hazel's family moved to Stanwood. She said shortly after she was born in Stanwood, her mother's father came in from working and stretched out on the couch.
"Let me see the baby," he asked his daughter. She brought the baby to him and, satisfied, he turned over for a nap only to die in his sleep from heart failure.
We drove by the spot where her house used to be and a brand new house stood toward the back. But the yard was still bordered by large maple trees planted by Hazel's brother.
She told how the family got behind in their mortgage payments during the Depression and the skinflint owner turned them out of their home. Still, she said, if they hadn't gone into debt, it wouldn't have happened. Her grandparent's small log cabin is still nearby.
Up a little hill was a house where the school used to be. She remembered hearing the school bell ring when she would arrive at the bottom of the hill, so she would run all the way up.
"Why don't you ask your mother to wake you earlier?" the teacher, Christine Hemmingson would ask. "But I'm so tired," Hazel would reply.
She didn't seem nearly as tired as I was, this day of nosing around. As we drove through the town, Hazel named each family's house, told us who their children were, how they came to Stanwood and what happened to them. We wound up at the cemetery so she could visit the final resting place of her family, friends and former neighbors.
"Gosh," she smiled," this is almost like coming home - except a cemetery is not my home."
We all laughed. She pointed out her uncle's grave, his family, her folks. When she got too tired to walk much more, my husband and I walked along the headstones calling out names and she'd tell us about the people.
One grave was that of a young man named Chris Berg from Norway who had come to work in the saw mill owned by Hazel's Uncle John, her mother's brother. One day a board caught in a saw and hit Chris in the head, killing him.
Her uncle paid for the funeral, the first one she attended in the small, white wood-frame church which is still in use today. For many years, she confided, every Memorial Day she would put flowers on his grave, knowing he had no family here to remember him. The depth and devotion of her heart is touching.
After leaving Stanwood and traveling through Granite Falls, I mentioned I lived in Granite Falls when I was in elementary school.
"Oh," she said and then pointing to a large brick building asked, "Was that building here when you lived here?" Frantically, I cast about in my mind trying to remember anything about Granite Falls other than the school and our home. Nope, utter darkness.
"Sorry, Hazel," I said sheepishly, mentally kicking my 49-year-old brain. "I don't remember."
"Oh well," she said, "you were just a child. You can't be expected to remember."
I don't think I'll forget Hazel and how she made a sleepy old town come to life on a sunny, Sunday fall afternoon.