Sometimes no news really is good news

Sunday, November 15, 1998

This is a relentlessly sentimental story. Sweet. Wholesome. It is not earthshaking news. It won't change the world. So if you want to turn the page right now to the latest rape, robbery or murder, I'll understand.

Still there?

OK. You've been warned.

It starts in a neighborhood in Silverton, where Hazel Warner walked every day. Doctor's orders. He told her it would improve her circulation. In her 80s and strong-minded herself, she nevertheless did as she was told. Every day. Even in the rain. Even in the snow. She just changed hats.

The walks stopped in August 1991, when Hazel had a stroke. She not only could no longer tromp around the streets but she couldn't take care of her house, her two cats or herself. She moved from her 70-year-old house into a room at a retirement home.

A smart aleck?

Ken Reynolds missed seeing her walking past his house. Not that they were friends or anything. Ken, 50-ish, and the elderly woman hadn't done much more than exchange pleasantries of the "Nice day, isn't it?" variety. But he asked around and found out where she was.

He says he remembered how he felt when he was laid up after a car accident. Lonely. Bored. So he showed up at her room and introduced himself. Of course, his face was familiar to Hazel, but she didn't know his name. They talked.

When he left he kissed her forehead. "I wonder if he's a smart aleck," she said to her niece. She also must have wondered if he meant it when he told her he would be back.

Well, he was not a smart aleck. And he did come back. Many times. "I just liked the lady," Ken, a forklift operator for Zack Pack in West Chester, says. "She was good company. Real interesting."

Ken's visits became regular Saturday outings. He took her to his daughter's house in Hamilton. They went to hear an American Indian singer at Mount Airy Forest, to Fairfield to watch gymnasts practice, to a quilt show, a cat show.

Ken is too nice to say so, but I suspect that he might have enjoyed one cultural opportunity too many. A former race car driver, he took her to the Lawrenceburg Speedway. They stood on the rail, and did what railbirds do. Ate dust.

"She was really something," Ken says.

Cheating the clock

But even feisty old ladies can't cheat the clock forever. By now Hazel was 95. She'd suffered another stroke, broke a hip. Ken and Hazel weren't as mobile, but the visits continued for seven years. Sometimes they went for a drive. Sometimes they just talked.

"She had personality, was fun to talk to," Ken says. "And I felt like maybe she needed me, too."

Her memory wasn't what it had been. Nor was her hearing. Ken had some problems of his own. "My vocal chords were paralyzed for about six months," he says. The visits continued, and they must have been quite a pair. "She couldn't hear and I couldn't talk." So they wrote notes.

"But then, she just kind of faded away."

Not alone, of course.

"She didn't know me," Ken says. "But I still went to see her every Saturday. Just in case."

Just in case. Just in case she woke up. Just in case she knew he was there. Just in case she was frightened.

Hazel died earlier this month. She didn't leave anybody a million dollars, but she did leave her body to UC's medical school. "I'll sure never forget her," Ken says.

And when I turn the page to the current crop of rapes, robberies and murders, I'll remember Ken. Maybe we ordinary people can't change the whole world. But every single one of us could do what he did.

We could change one person's world.

Laura Pulfer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com, call 768-8393, or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard on WVXU radio and on NPR's Morning Edition. Her new book, I Beg to Differ, is available at (800) 852-9332.

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