ME AND…the passing of a good friend

Hazel Louise Murdock Riddell passed away on June 27, 2015.  She was 94 years old.  These were my thoughts on the day of her funeral.


I lived with my father-in-law Dave and my mother-in-law Hazel while my husband Dave was in Vietnam. It was during that time that I discovered what a remarkable person Hazel was. Mr. Riddell worked in Pittsburgh during the week. Neill was busy with school and his band. So most evenings Hazel and I ended up alone in the living room watching TV together. In particular, I remember watching the evening news with her. The struggle for Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation played out before our eyes. And so many issues. Hazel had plenty to say about those things. And then we’d see news footage of fighting going on in Vietnam, complete with the body count. The number of U.S. Military personnel who’d been killed that day. It was – and I use this word to the full extent of it’s meaning – horrible.

Hazel suffered real pain over these numbers. Partly, I’m sure because her own son was over there in harm’s way. But also because she totally disagreed with the war. I didn’t like to see her so upset. So I suggested we not watch. Hazel responded as if I had proposed an act of treason. In her mind, I supposed I had. She slapped the palm of her hand down onto the wooden arm of her chair and said, in “No, sir!” No matter how painful, it was our duty to watch, in order to be well informed, because only then could we hold and offer a valid opinion on the war. I sat there in admiration of her intelligence and strength. And to be perfectly honest, I was pretty much afraid of her.

In December of the year Dave was in Vietnam, I was getting ready to bake Christmas cookies to send to him. His favorites were filled with fresh fruit. Including grapes. The problem was, out in California, Cesazr Chavez had called for a nationwide boycott on grapes to support his efforts to organize migrant workers. I knew Hazel would have a fit if I brought home a bag of grapes. So before going shopping for ingredients, I asked her advice. Make the cookies without grapes? They wouldn’t be nearly as good, She thought for a moment and then said, “Buy the grapes. It’ll be okay because they’re for cookies going to a soldier fighting in Vietnam. We just won’t eat any of them.” Sure enough, the left over grapes went into the trash.

That was when I understood her. The matter of the grapes was just a little thing. But to Hazel, every little thing you did added up to who you really were.

There were moments of happiness while I lived at 1265 Fort Park. Dave had written home from Vietnam that he’d like to have a dog waiting for him when he came home. Of course, my father-in-law Dave and Hazel said yes. Dave had requested the dog be a Newfoundland puppy. I had never had a dog and Hazel set about training me on how to train a dog. Use one word commands. Be consistent. If the dog is disobedient, get off your butt and do something about it right away, Most importantly, never strike a dog. Thanks to Hazel’s guidance, the puppy, Babe, grew up to be a wonderful pet.

There are many other stories I could tell about that year, but they are for another time.

Dave, made it through the war and came home. I moved out of 1265 Fort Park into an apartment with him and we began our life together for the second time. Years later, after our kids, Katie and Aaron, had been born, Dave seemed very worried and said, “I don’t anything about raising kids.” I had to laugh at what came into my mind. “Use one word commands. Be consistent. If they are disobedient, get off your butt and do something about it right away, And never strike them.” If I say so myself, Katie and Aaron have grown up to be wonderful adults.

Hazel was an intelligent, feisty, well informed, and very generous woman who was a good companion to me during one of the most difficult times of my life. As she was through out the many years that followed. I owe her a huge debt of gratitude.