Songs From the Past -
“Miss Hazel!” Miss Hazel!”
Hazel Cummings walked slowly to her apartment door, shaking her head in dismay. Oh, my goodness! It just can’t be that Giselle woman again! She sighed in exasperation. This was the third time today! Peering through the peephole with one eye, Hazel saw her neighbor’s dark profile and troubled look. She sighed again, wondering what it could possibly be this time. This Giselle person was truly getting on her last nerve. First it had been an egg she wanted to borrow, then a return of a pan she had borrowed from yesterday, now what else? The young woman was like a pesky fly. She just couldn’t escape her bothersome nature. Hazel wasn’t sure she liked this woman who always was so needy.
Slowly Hazel cracked the door and looked up at the tall, young woman. Barely twenty-five if she calculated correctly with three small children already, Hazel analyzed. Seeing the tears in the young woman’s eyes, Hazel corralled her desire to say, “Well what now?” and simply said “Yes?”
“Miss Hazel, could you come by for a few minutes? I need to go to the market; we are out of formula and Roger won’t be home for a good bit. I just have to have the baby’s milk sooner than when he arrives.”
Another favor, Hazel couldn’t believe it. Was she Santa Claus? Was she the good fairy? For pity’s sake, she was an 83-year-old woman who was trying to relax in her retirement years. This new neighbor could really drive her to drink – something she had put a stop to years ago. Yes, she had welcomed her arrival last week with a loaf of banana bread, for that is what good neighbors do. But – really this was only to substantiate good will. Not to encourage this constant bothersome woman to be at her beck and call for all things she needed. Why didn’t she call a sister or a mother or something?
“Well, Giselle,” Hazel replied shaking her head. “I really can’t be responsible for your little ones. Why I move slowly and really, what if . . .”
“Oh, they are napping now,” Giselle said quick to dispel Hazel’s refusal. “You just sit yourself down watch that soap opera you love and I’ll be back very quickly. I promise. I just need this one favor – please”
Hazel began to shut the door on Giselle’s pleading face but had a sudden remembrance of John and his babyhood. The son that had left her years ago for the army and never returned had been the light of her life at one time. What if he was the one needing the milk? What if she had to ask a neighbor for help?
“I’ll be over in five minutes,” Hazel replied softly. “Please, make it a quick trip though, Giselle. You know I am not used to being a babysitter.”
Giselle nodded and quickly left the hallway and returned to her apartment. Hazel gathered up her crochet needles and yarn and went to the bathroom mirror. Tiding her gray hair and putting on a dab of lipstick she shook her head and asked herself, “What in the world are you trying to look good for old woman? The children who are asleep?” Chuckling to herself, Hazel Cummings grabbed her keys, said a quick good bye to her cat, Arthur, and stepped out of the apartment. Knocking softly on Giselle’s door she heard a commotion inside. She thought the children were asleep. She walked in when there was no reply and saw Giselle wiping a dirty two-year-old mouth.
“Ah, this little guy just woke up, Miss Hazel, but no worries. I’ll turn on cartoons!”
Hazel started to protest as she watched Giselle grab her purse, blow a kiss to the youngster and run for the door. “Back in a flash, Miss Hazel. I promise.”
Hazel stared. The child sat in a diaper and white undershirt sucking his thumb as he stared at the mouse on the screen. Hazel sat next to him on the couch and took out her crochet needles. Beginning to work the needles she saw the little boy staring intently at her fingers. What was this child’s name again? She couldn’t remember. Trevor, Trey, something like that she thought. As her fingers worked, the small boy reached out a finger to touch the yarn ball. Hazel smiled. “Want me to make you something?”
She got a crooked smile once the thumb came away from the mouth. “Make something.” He repeated a few times. Hazel looked closely. He was a very handsome boy, if she did say so herself. “What is your name?”
The thumb returned to the mouth and a bit of drool slid down the side of it. Hazel grimaced. She hadn’t a Kleenex on her. She saw that there was a box on the counter and she got up to get it. After she returned to the couch the child had confiscated her needles and Hazel gasped. Good Lord! What if he stabbed himself or something with them? She grabbed them suddenly and the quick movement made the child startle and start to whimper. “Mama,” he moaned as his mouth trembled and more drool escaped.
Hazel felt a rush of panic. A crying two-year-old, a baby in a crib and another child in the back room supposedly asleep. What had she gotten in to? She took a deep breath and relied on her memory from John’s younger years. She would sing. Yes, that always soothed John. She began a slow humming and broke into the happy tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It.’ She opened her mouth and repeated the song that had stuck with her for many years. A favorite of her John’s. Well, it couldn’t hurt. She sang with gusto and the awestruck child perked up and left his tears behind quickly.
“If your happy and you know it clap your hands! If your happy and you know it clap your hands! If your happy and you know it then your life will surely show it, if your happy and you know it clap your hands!”
Hazel repeated the song, clapping when needed and saw the child, Trevor or Trey, (what was his name?) slowly manage a smile. She reached for his hands and clapped them together when the song called for it and before she knew it the child was on the floor jumping up and down to the song with a spirit of fun. Hazel was intrigued. She watched him encourage her to continue and together they continued their lively song. When Hazel was out of breath and Trey (she had decided that this was his name) looked at her expectantly she quickly thought of another song. Together the old woman and the two-year-old sang and clapped. Sang and clapped.
Hazel could hear noise coming from the other room. Oh no! The four-year-old child, a little girl she remembered, must be awake. Was it all their singing that had awoken her? Hazel saw the skinny little girl peek around the corner of the bedroom and walk out, her large dark eyes surveying the room where there was a strange woman, a diaper clad brother and no mother. Tears filled her little orbs and she began to cry, “Mama!”
Hazel got up from the couch and walked to her, cooing, “It’s all right, Tina (she remembered this one’s name, whew!) Trey and I are singing, do you want to join us?” Taking a small hand in hers, Hazel positioned Tina on the couch next to her and watched Trey still looking at her expectantly. “So, what shall we sing now?” Tina asked for Mama again and Hazel tried to explain Mama would be back soon. It was OK, though. They were singing. Did she like to sing?
“I do,” Tina’s small voice replied. “I sing at preschool.”
Hazel was observing the baby in the corner in his bassinet. Would he wake up too and then all three would be her responsibility? Looking at the two faces staring at her with anticipation, she opened her mouth again and this time a song from John’s childhood came easily as if no years had past since his childhood.
"Jesus loves the little children, all the little children of the world. Red, yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
Repeating the verse over and over Hazel discovered that the small bodies before her tried to repeat her words. They sang it again and again and Hazel realized that she was enjoying herself. These two were not so scary after all. They liked her it seemed, for their faces were aglow and eyes bright. Singing, singing, and more singing!
A cry came form the crib. Hazel tried to ignore it. The cry intensified and Tina and Trey looked at her with concern. Tina’s small voice croaked, “Baby awake. Time to change the diaper.”
Hazel grimaced. Change the diaper? Not on her life. She tried to ignore the crying. Trey danced before her, “More music!” More music!” The baby’s crying reached a high pitch now and Hazel realized she must pick up the child and at least try to comfort him… or was it a her?
Now sitting on the couch with a baby in her arms, a two-year-old at her feet and a four-year-old close by her side, Hazel decided this was just too much for her old bones to deal with. Yet, the baby was quiet now, sleeping actually in her arms, as light as a feather. Tina leaned her head on Hazel’s arm and hummed the latest tune, while Trey recited, “More music, more music . . . please?” Hazel relaxed. She was doing OK apparently. All seemed happy. Where was that, Giselle? The market wasn’t that far away. Children asleep – bah! Yet, the small ones were adorable and they did seem to like her. She hummed now, a quiet song from long ago,
"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray."
The baby slept, Trey watched her sing trying to chime in as if he knew the words and Tina cuddled up close to her. Hazel smiled to herself. It wasn’t all that bad now, was it? This taking care of children. And so, they sat, continuing the songs Hazel had remembered from all those years ago. The more she sang the more the children smiled and tried to chime in. Hazel realized she was enjoying herself. She really was. These children were delightful.
“Miss Hazel!’ Giselle exclaimed, rushing in and setting the formula she had bought down on the kitchen counter. “Oh dear, I thought the children would all still be asleep. I hope it hasn’t been too much for you!”
Hazel stood and handed Giselle the sleeping baby gently, placing a kiss on the small head. She patted Tina’s knee and Trey’s head. “Miss Hazel has to go now, but you know she would love to come again and stay with you.” Patting Giselle’s arm and looking intently into her dark, worried eyes, Hazel’s once tired ones were now full of light and life. “Just call if you need me, hon. You know I’m just across the hall.”
Giselle closed the door on her neighbor with a quizzical look. Hazel was someone she hadn’t really liked when she first met her, kind of a grumpy old lady, but she found that she needed her help often. She had no one else close by and of course, Roger couldn’t be depended upon for much lately for he was always working. Hazel might just turn out to be someone she actually liked. Especially she realized, after she saw her happy children’s faces. “Well kids, you got to know Miss Hazel a bit better today it seems”. She watched the children nod in agreement and Trey called out, “More music!” Giselle sighed. She had judged Hazel too quickly as probably Hazel had judged her. They just might get to be friends.
Hazel entered her apartment and said hello to Arthur. The gray feline brushed against her legs with affection. Hazel found her chair, and as her hands worked the crochet needles, she thought to herself of her years with John long ago. Perhaps, she just might learn to love those children as much. Perhaps, her life could continue to be useful. It was a good feeling being needed. She had forgotten how much it meant to her. How she hoped Giselle would soon need something from her again soon. She had found Giselle nothing but annoying since they had first met, but now, well, now it was different.
Hazel hummed a tune she had sung to the children and smiled to herself. “If Your Happy and You Know It . . .”