Upon my word, not every day does a 102-year-old Mountaineer Momma exclaim to me, “You will be my friend for life!” So thank you, Hazel Haymond Davidson, for making my day. Of course, there is a story behind Mrs. Davidson’s expression of gratitude.
The Record Delta featured our centenarian-plus lady with a picture of her hitching a ride on a motorcycle for her 102nd birthday, August 11, 2020. She had an eccentric way of celebrating that I admire but may not emulate. Impressively, she is mother to six children—all alive and well. They take good care of their dynamic mother. On our providential meeting day, her daughter Avis is out driving her mom around Buckhannon. I wave at them as I walk by. They wave me over with a special request. Hazel explains that for 39 years she has watched my weekly TV program “Tender Loving Care” on Channel 3, but she has never been a guest. Why not?
Well, today is my fortunate day, because I can tell Hazel Davidson that she will be a very spunky special guest! We set up our interview to take place outside the high-rise apartment building where she lives, as that is safer with the coronavirus pandemic. Besides, the sunshine is healthy. She wants to share with Upshur County’s Channel 3 viewing audience some of her life’s lessons learned: “As you get older, you lose three important things. The first is your memory. The second is your ability to remember what you just said. And I can’t remember the third thing.” She laughs heartily, letting me know she has not lost her sense of humor.
Hazel regales us with stories of her growing up in the Gaines community in a large and loving family as the youngest of eight children. She attended the two-room school, staying in the small class through the 8th grade before needing to stay home to help raise food and share homemaking chores. Hazel started school at the young age of three or four and loved reading. She explains that she rented library books and read because she never got to go to high school. The bus stop was a two-mile walk from her home, and she recalled how it seemed impossible during snowy weather. “We had lots of snow then, deep snow. So, my mother didn’t think it was wise,” she says. She went to the high school one day to get her eighth-grade diploma and said the whole county gathered. She adds, “It was a nice time, a nice celebration.”
Two of Hazel’s brothers graduated to become teachers. She remembers growing up with the Feola family in Gaines, including Frank Feola, who became a legendary and long-serving principal at Buckhannon-Upshur High School. She recalls living through the Great Depression. “Some people would lose some money through the bank,” Davidson states. “We had plenty to eat. We had gardens and canned food. We weren’t hurt that I know of.”
Without missing a verse, she recites poetry memorized in her country school. Her eyes sparkle and her voice dances in cadence. Not only is she reciting, but she is teaching me lessons learned about living abundantly.
Later in her adult years, Hazel’s neighbor just across the creek is one of our most famous residents—Wolfgang Flor, wood carving artist extraordinaire. He began sculpturing around age 20 and was self taught. The wood used often came from local buildings no longer in use. Regarding Hazel’s own house, she continued living in her family home at Gaines for her 40 years of fruitful marriage as she and her husband raised their six children before his passing.
Fortuitously, Hazel Davidson makes a bold leap forward as she shines as a TV guest. Already in the works, my next project serving on the BOE is to collect stories about the 25 one- and two-room schools closed in the 30-year tenure of Dr. Robert L. Chamberlain’s service to the education of our children. 102-year-old Hazel Davidson has given me an auspicious beginning, plus “a friend for life.”