Hazel Bacon, a mother for the ages
Hazel Bacon is one of those people who enjoys life. Yet, hiding behind her bright smile and positive attitude is a woman who has suffered hardships and tragedy. Widowed at the age of 26 with three young children, Hazel hasn’t had time to be bitter.
It was during a Carolina Beach vacation in 1946 that Hazel met her future husband, Bob Bacon. Falling in love at first sight, they were sad to see the vacation end.
What followed was a long distance relationship, with phone calls back and forth and Bob making trips from his home in New York to see Hazel in Concord.
By the time Hazel was 19, they were married. Seven years later, after a tragic accident, Hazel was a widow and single mom to Gary, Gail and Jill.
Bob and Hazel had a happy life with a bright future. Climbing the corporate ladder as an insurance adjuster, Bob moved his growing family to Cleveland, Ohio, and took a second job in construction. It was while Bob was holding a ladder for a co-worker that the accident happened. The co-worker unknowingly touched a live wire and Bob was electrocuted. In that instant, Hazel’s life and that of her three children changed forever.
Gail said, “Although I was only about 3 or 4 when the accident happened, I still remember Dad. One of my favorite memories was going to the circus with him and getting popcorn. I can still smell that popcorn even today.
“Not long after, the accident happened. Devastated, Mom didn’t know what to do. Eventually becoming a beautician to support us, although we didn’t have a lot of money, or the best as far as material things go, Mom made sure we had fun.”
Gary says one of the best lessons he learned from his mom was a work ethic.
“I actually started mowing lawns when I was only 12 and have been working ever since. When I got a bicycle and began delivering papers, although I hate to admit this, if it was raining or snowing on a Sunday morning, Mom would drive me around. In those days, the Sunday paper was delivered while everyone else slept.
“Mom was our example. She sometimes worked two or three jobs just to make sure we had food on the table and clothes on our back. She always said if she ever retired it would be when her toes turned up.”
Gail laughed and said,”She works circles around me. There’s no way I can keep up with her and I’m 20 years younger.”
After the accident, knowing she had to make a living for her children, Hazel wondered what she was going to do. Noticing how much Hazel enjoyed fixing hair, Hazel’s mother-in-law, Margaret Bacon, encouraged her to go to beauty school.
Bob’s parents, Margaret and Duane Bacon, by then had moved to Cleveland, Ohio, to help with the grand kids. Having lots of help from Bob’s parents and after several years of school, Hazel finally accomplished her goal. Once graduating, she and the children moved back to North Carolina to be closer to her parents, Oland and Dema Benson.
Interviewing for two positions, Hazel took the second one, knowing La Petite in Salisbury was the place for her. Thinking back to the interview with owner, Betty Bunker, Hazel said, “After introducing myself, I asked Betty if she had any openings. The next thing I knew she was crying. Through her tears, Betty explained one operator had moved and another was pregnant and had to leave.
“I started the next day.”
Judy Ridenhour, a longtime client of Hazel’s and a friend of mine, first told me about Hazel. Thinking she would make a good story, Judy said Hazel was retiring at the age of 85. By the time I met Hazel, however, she had changed her mind. I assured her there was still plenty to write about. With Mother’s Day around the corner, I knew her story would be one of encouragement, especially to young mothers raising children alone.
The Salisbury Post ran a story about Hazel in 1971, in Jim Hurley’s column about people and their lives. The headline read, “Working Widow — After Tragedy, Hazel Bacon Went to School, Then Came Home to Raise Her 3 Children.”
It was Father’s Day, 1956.
Bob Bacon, a New Jersey boy, and his wife, Hazel, a North Carolina girl whom he had met at Carolina Beach seven years before, were settling into a nice suburban home in Cleveland, Ohio, where he was assigned as an insurance adjuster.
They had three small children, the oldest soon to enter the first grade and the youngest only six months old. Bob was dreaming of starting his own adjusting firm. To give the project a financial boost, he was moonlighting with a construction firm in his spare time.
Yes, life was good in the Bacon household, and Bob and Hazel looked forward to the future.
Then tragedy struck …
Hazel recalls, “I got a phone call. It was in June, on a Monday, the day after Father’s Day. Someone said Bob had been in an accident.
How badly is he hurt? Where is he? Which hospital? How do I get there?”
Hearing the words, “He died on the way to the hospital,” Hazel was in so much shock she ran down the street screaming, even jumping a fence.
Reading those words on a yellowed copy of the Salisbury Post, I could sense not only sadness dripping off the page, but also determination and survival. Talking with Gail, Gary and Jill, I learned Hazel’s determination came from working on the family farm in Concord as a little girl. Among other things, picking cotton, those years prepared Hazel for what was ahead, raising three children on her own.
“Mom’s my hero in so many ways,” Gail said. “She never gave up no matter the challenge. She’s small in stature, but huge in her caring and loving others. Although family dinners have become difficult for her, she insists on cooking for us all. Once you meet Mom you can’t help but like her. Such a sweet smile, but don’t let her fool you, she can definitely still intimidate her children!”
Jill said, “I know it’s funny to hear, but when I see my 85-year-old Mom coming up the driveway, I know help is on the way. There is never a time she comes that she doesn’t help in some way. She comes to visit and ends up on the floor playing with her 11-month-old great-grandson, or outside kicking a soccer ball, or playing basketball with her other great-grandchildren.
“As a child, I remember her always being a pillar of hope. When you thought you couldn’t go on and you wanted to quit, you looked at her and said to yourself, ‘If she can do it, so can I.’ She’s about the simple things in life … Christ, family and a kind-hearted love for others, which she has instilled in us. She has touched every person she has ever met and changed so many lives for the better.”
Although her children love her dearly, they are not the only ones. I had the opportunity to speak recently for a mother-daughter banquet at Hazel’s church, Dayspring Community Church in China Grove. Hazel was out of town that day, so I was able to get the scoop. Teri Mills, in particular, had nothing but praise. She said, “Hazel’s so giving. I’m amazed by her energy. When we have meals at church, she’s often one of the last to sit down.”
Loving her sense of style, Teri said, “She dresses well, with makeup and hair perfectly done. She’s so poised and beautiful.”
Her co-workers and clients at La Petite display their affection by calling her “Sweet Pea.” Betty says she’s not an employee, but family.
Asking Hazel why she decided not to retire, I wasn’t surprised when she answered, “If I just sat around the house, I would start going downhill. Plus, I would miss the girls at the shop, and my clients.”
In spite of hardships and tragedies, there’s no doubt Hazel has lived a blessed life, finding purpose in helping others. The epitome of Proverbs 31:28, “Her children arise up, and call her blessed …”
Hazel, it’s time to take your shoes off and rest, if only for one day, and let others pamper you. You so deserve it. Happy Mother’s Day!
Dicy McCullough’s books are available at bookstores, Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble. Contact her at 704-278-4377.