This past Saturday, February 25th, many Hazelwood community members gathered at the local fire station to sign up for occupational training and tell the stories of their loved ones. As part of the Precious Keepsakes event, Hazelwood folk were asked to bring items that belonged to or reminded them of their lost friends and family members. After having indicating interest in being interviewed, we bused the community members to the Center of Life so they could be in a more comfortable environment to discuss this loss. The interviews were structured as follows:
- We first had the volunteers state their name and discuss their relationship to Hazelwood. We also asked how they had seen the community change throughout the course of their lives.
- We asked them to discuss loss they have experienced and show/explain the objects they had brought.
The way these questions were asked and the length of interviews varied, giving us a rich narrative that covered personal history in Hazelwood and the people it has lost. Although each story was unique, there were many similarities in the way people described the changes that have occurred in Hazelwood over time. Not all those we interviewed currently lived in Hazelwood, but all had grown up there and still consider themselves Hazelwood natives.
The story of early Hazelwood appeared to be one that was rich with community interaction and it seemed to be a time in which the community was more prosperous. They had a grocery store, a YMCA, and school to keep people involved locally. Hazelwood had everything the community needed, and Second Avenue was described as “the place to be.” Apparently those who lived outside the community often came to Hazelwood to enjoy its company. Once its institutions disappeared, however, this atmosphere seemed to turn into one of greater struggle. There wasn’t anything for anyone (children, teens, and adults alike) to do. Family and friendship are now the only things that seem to keep people grounded to Hazelwood.
Not everyone had brought an object to help them discuss the lives they had lost, but everyone had a story. The stories were of lost sons, brothers, and daughters. And despite how difficult is was to tell, everyone wanted their story to be heard. The majority of items brought in were photographs. A few members had brought in items such as shoes, jewelry, and sports memorabilia. It was clear when the interviewees discussed their items that they were filled with both the good memories that were had with the lost individual, as well as the sadness at the loss. When asked where this items were kept, there tended to be two responses: on display in the house, or in a box kept in a safe place.
Everyone had the desire to have their story told and their items shown in our exhibit.We found that people were more comfortable with the inclusion of their photographs rather than physical items, but some expressed a willingness to lend the physical keepsake. The Hazelwood community has a lot to say and wants its story to be hear. This was clear during our interviews as most had to be stopped early due to time. It was also apparent that our work with the community is greatly appreciated and many look forward to continued involvement in our project.