Watching “Hazel’s People”

For a while there, at the Steinbach MCC thrift shop, anything that loosely had to do with Mennonites was thrown onto the shelves labeled “inspirational”, so I combed over those titles, seeking weird publications you probably wouldn’t find anywhere else. (Such as this goodie.)

One of the treats I carried home was a little book entitled Happy as the Grass was Green by Merle Good, copyright 1971. “Now a major motion picture!” declares the cover, which features stills of four characters, evidently taken from the film.

Also on the front cover, this harrowing synopsis: “A bittersweet journey between a complex world of violence and the simpler Mennonite world of peace.” I happily claimed this little book as my own and cheerily presented it to Andrew upon my arrival home.

But have I read it? Not yet! Why should I, when I could just watch the movie?

For some reason, by the time the film was released in 1973,  the name of the story had been changed to Hazel’s People. Andrew and I watched it with great interest. It was kind of familiar yet unfamiliar, because while the film features authentic Mennonites, they’re Pennsylvania Mennonites and not quite the same as the ones we’re used to/are. Also the Christian relationship with hippies as depicted here kinda reminded me of A Thief in the Night which was released in 1972 (rabbit trail: did you know that one of the producers of Thief had also worked on The Blob? Yep, a horror guy.)

I apologize for the digression. Back to Hazel’s People! The film opens with two hippies on a train talking about their friend who has just been murdered. Andrew and I thought we were probably watching the wrong movie and checked the link. The link was correct. We kept watching and realized these hippies were on their way to Lancaster. Now we for sure knew this was the Mennonite movie we were trying to watch! Turns out one of the hippies was a Mennonite, and it was his brother who had been killed when they were in New York City protesting the Vietnam War. He was going home to attend his brother’s funeral and his friend Eric was joining him since he was also close with the deceased hippie Mennonite.

This attending-a-funeral thing ends up lasting several days, so they stay at the family farm and Eric quickly becomes part of the whole shebang and falls for a sexy young sassy feisty Mennonite named Hazel. Andrew and I were baffled at her skirt length. Seemed a little short for a Mennonite who wears a head covering, but again, what do we know about Lancaster Mennonites? Not nearly enough. This movie is a great education! 😀

There is frolicking, there is romance, we were thinking “hmmm is this a bonnet-ripper? what exactly are we watching, anyway?” hahaha BUT there is also a lot of discussion of peace and what that should look like, in practical terms. And to me, that’s the interesting part — the conversations surrounding what peace is and how to achieve it in real life, what hippies maybe got wrong and honestly also what Mennonites get wrong. I was impressed with Eric’s character when he was pressed to address a church about how he had changed from his “heathen hippie ways” (or something like that) and the moment he gets to the pulpit he just rips the church apart and calls they hypocrites because by then he’d been living among them for a while and had seen quite enough of their hypocrisy for himself, a different kind of violence. Yet at the same time there is love and respect for the Mennonite way of life as well. (Which is probably a given.)

What did YOU think of Hazel’s People?

Oh, you haven’t seen it yet? No problem, you can watch it right now — it’s on YouTube, here’s the link!

P.S. When I was attempting to take a picture with the book, I opened it for the first time ever and discovered that its previous owner had been blacking out whole sections of text! Yikesssssss…