Mark Twain once philosophized, "Live your life so that even the undertaker is sorry when you die." I don't know many folks who lived up to that advice, but I attended the funeral of a person who did Sunday afternoon. The town of Covington turned out at the First Baptist Church to pay their final respects to Hazel Parish and it was a fitting tribute to a great Southern lady and the mother of two wonderful daughters, Elaine Parish Ellis and Patty Parish King. I was a better person Sunday night for having attended the service, and I have lived a richer life because Hazel has been a part of it for so long.
Hazel was one of those special people. If you met her, you never forgot her and if you were lucky enough to be able to claim her as a friend then you had a friend for life. She was, as the preacher called her, a "fashionista" and I don't know if that's a real word or not but it is perfect for describing Hazel. I never saw her when she wasn't dressed to the nines -- hair and makeup looking just like she'd stepped out of a styling salon, the most elegant clothes -- bright colors that personified her personality -- and matching shoes, jewelry and accessories, including a matching wristwatch for every occasion.
If they had a yearbook for towns, Hazel would have been named "best dressed" in Covington's for the past 88 years running.
They say the clothes make the man, but the clothes didn't make Hazel. Her heart did. It was full of the love of God and Hazel must have learned that little poem I learned in grade school. "Love in our hearts wasn't put there to stay. Love isn't love 'til we give it away."
I memorized that poem. Hazel Parish lived it.
When I was in high school, Hazel was a person that seemed to be at every community event and she took a special interest in all the young people of the community -- especially Elaine and Patty's friends. In Newton County in the 1960s there were many, many adults who paid positive attention to the youth of the community. Hazel never stopped.
When Patty married my childhood neighbor and hero, Larry King, Hazel and I were practically family and I loved running into her at random places and on random occasions. She always had a good word for me. She always gave me a big hug. She always made me laugh. She always told me that she loved me, and I know she meant it. Who wouldn't enjoy running into a person like that?
Hazel was a letter writer and I will always cherish the ones she mailed to me. When her husband, Otis, passed away eight years ago, she sat down and penned one of the most beautiful love stories I have ever read about their marriage. When I was diagnosed with cancer she wrote me that she would be lifting me up in prayer every day, and I have no doubt that she kept her word.
Several times, when misguided people had the nerve to criticize me in the newspaper's phone poll, she wrote letters to the editor chastising them and sometimes she wrote letters of commendation on my behalf just because.
Often when I spoke, whether it was at her church, First Baptist, or another church, I would look out over the congregation and see Hazel's smiling face and knew that I could relax and be myself because I was absolutely certain that Hazel had my back and would give me a hug and an encouraging word no matter how I might botch up what I intended to say. There is much to be said for unconditional love -- and that's the only kind Hazel knew.
I last saw her about four weeks ago -- at Henderson's. I looked like I had been working in the yard all day -- which I probably had -- and Hazel looked like she had just stepped off the pages of Mademoiselle, which she probably would have if they had known about her.
We hugged and talked and laughed and she told me about her 88th birthday party and commented on a few of my most recent columns -- which she still read herself, without benefit of spectacles. She showed me some pictures and shared a few stories. I was so glad to see her and would never have suspected that she would be gone to her just reward so soon.
I was sad to learn of her passing, but I was sad for myself, not for her. I know exactly where she is today and I know she is the belle of the heavenly ball -- and I know that whatever we wear when we get to heaven that Hazel will wear hers well -- and everything will match.
We have lost a jewel, y'all. Thanks, Hazel, for touching so many lives. I can promise you two things. You will be remembered -- and you will be missed. And to Mark Twain: I'm pretty sure I saw a small tear in the corner of Judson Caldwell's eye as I was leaving the church.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.