A Song for Tommy

by Mabel Jones Gabbott

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    Gary watched his brother Geof giving directions to their two younger brothers. Geof was waving his hands excitedly and talking very fast. Gary could not see all Geof was saying, but he caught the enthusiasm and excitement of his brothers.

    Dad had taken Mother to the hospital earlier that morning, and the boys could hardly wait for him to come home and tell them about their new baby sister. They were sure the baby would be a girl, that she would be soft and pink, and they would call her Tammy.

    Gary was sure he would love her at first sight. Sometimes his stomach would get all tight inside just thinking about having a baby sister at home to laugh with and to love.

    Gary watched closely as Geof stood directly in front of him and carefully repeated what he had been saying. “When Tammy comes to live with us,” he said, “we’ll have to keep our trucks and bicycles out of the way so she won’t get hurt, and we can’t throw balls in the house, and we can’t yell too loud when she’s sleeping. Isn’t that right?”

    Gary nodded enthusiastically.

    At an important time like this, Gary wished he could talk and hear like everyone else. Sometimes it was hard being deaf, but he tried not to show his frustration.

    Gary was learning to read at the school for the deaf, and he could use his fingers when talking in class. But at home his family spoke carefully and directly to him so he could lip-read what they said. With their patient help, he was learning to sound out many words so they could understand him.

    Geof usually took charge of the brothers whenever Dad and Mother were away even though Gary was older. And Gary was usually glad because he knew that Geof was a good leader.

    Gary was certain that it would be different with Tammy. He wanted to help take special care of her. He wouldn’t mind doing anything at all to help her and make her happy.

    Gary and his brothers gave Geof their full attention as they made plans for their new little sister.

    It was almost evening before Dad came home. The boys were keyed to a high pitch after the long wait.

    They crowded around Dad.

    “What does she look like?” Kent asked.

    “How much does she weigh?” Karl questioned.

    “Does she have dark hair? How long before we can see her?” Geof wanted to know.

    Gary looked at his father soberly, “Is she all right?”

    Father bent down and gathered his four sons into his long arms and said huskily, “The baby is all right. It weighs almost ten pounds and has dark hair and beautiful dark eyes and looks like Mother. But the baby is a boy.”

    “A boy,” Karl said in disbelief.

    “But what about our sister? We already have boys,” said Geof.

    Gary looked up into his father’s face and smiled. “But if he’s okay, that’s all that matters,” he said with rapidly moving fingers. “When can we see him?”

    A few days later Mother came home with the new baby. Gary took just one long look at his red wrinkled face, little clenched fists, and thin kicking legs, and he loved him immediately. Gary let the baby’s fingers curl around his own big finger. He liked the tight way the baby held on.

    Here is someone, Gary thought, who can use some special help from me.

    The family decided to name the baby Tommy.

    Each night while Mother prepared dinner, Gary sat in the big rocker crooning softly to Tommy. Gary felt sure the baby understood him, and he was happier than he had ever been before.

    All day long Gary looked forward to this hour before dinner when he could hold Tommy and put into song all the things he felt and had never before been able to say.

    One day in school Gary’s teacher said, “I hear something special has happened at your house. Would you like to tell us about it?”

    Gary went to the front of the class and began to describe his new baby brother. His fingers couldn’t move fast enough to tell all the wonderful things he felt about Tommy.

    That night when Gary went home, he sat down in the big rocker as he did each evening. As he held the baby, Gary tried to sing all the things he had told his classmates. But Tommy was not feeling well. He wriggled and squirmed and cried even though Gary tried to quiet and soothe him.

    Finally Mother said, “Perhaps Tommy needs to lie on his stomach. I’ll put him back in his crib for a while.” She took the baby from Gary, and soon Tommy stopped crying.

    Mother came back into the kitchen. Gary watched her for a few minutes, and then he quietly went into the bathroom and closed the door.

    Even Tommy doesn’t like my singing, Gary thought. He must know I have no real words ever to give anyone. And suddenly all the hidden hurt of a lifetime was inside of him and Gary began to cry. Once the tears started, he couldn’t stop them.

    For a long time Gary stayed inside the bathroom, but finally he washed his face, opened the door, and went out to have dinner with the family. Mother gave him a quick hug as he sat down at the table, and Dad gave Gary one of his special smiles.

    Later that night when the dishes were done and everything was put away, Gary went to bed in the room he shared with Kent, but he couldn’t get to sleep. A few minutes later Mother came in carrying Tommy, who was all ready for bed and wrapped in a soft blanket.

    Mother bent low over Gary’s bed so he could read her lips in the soft night light. “Gary, are you still awake? I know Tommy would love to have you hold him for a few moments and sing to him. Cuddle him close and sing again the song you were singing this afternoon.”

    Gary put out his arms and Mother gently put Tommy into them. Gary looked down at his little brother and held him close. Then he began to sing with all the love he had in his heart.

    And Tommy seemed to understand. He looked up at Gary and smiled.

    Illustrated by Howard Post