I felt a little like Maria Von Trapp when I parked my Fiat in front of Haskell Roscoe's luxurious Hollywood mansion. All I needed was a guitar, a bad hat and a ridiculous perky attitude.
I'd worked for Haskell before, updating movie scripts at Universal. He wasn't so much unreasonable as he was driven and obsessive. One afternoon, right after he'd wrapped his last film, I quit. No drama, no soliloquies. I just handed him my resignation.
Two days later he called and asked me if I would consider taking a job at his home. I said no. Politely. But Haskell is a hard man to deny. Fifteen calls a day for a week did me in and I asked what the position entailed.
He needed a nanny. A tutor actually. For his daughter, Hermione.
I said no. Politely.
A week later he tripled his offer and I agreed to give him a month.
So, sans my Von trappings I rang his doorbell on a Monday morning. A stiff butler led me inside and sat me in an alcove off the library. Without a word, he left. Fifteen minutes later a child walked into the room.
"Hermione?" I asked.
She smiled, approached me and patted my hand.
I 'm no medical expert but I knew instantly she had Down Syndrome. Her small plump fingers lingered on mine. I barely noticed, caught up instead in the enchantment of her smile.
"You teach?" she asked.
I nodded. "Do you have books?"
She grabbed my hand, led me up three flights of stairs to what could only be described as an attic bedroom. It was elaborately appointed but clearly separated from the rest of the house.
The walls were covered with thousands of brightly colored plastic letters. Hermione hurried to a CD player and pressed a button. The alphabet song played. Over and over.
"Book," she said, dazzling me with that smile again.
We sang our ABC's day in and day out. Sometimes I would move the letters, creating my name and her name in red, yellow, green and blue combinations.
She had a small ukulele which I strummed, adding chords to our endless renditions of the alphabet. Every morning, Hermione placed a tall, striped Cat In The Hat hat on her own head and a cowboy hat with Mickey Mouse ears on mine.
I laughed with joy in her presence and cringed with guilt every time Haskell handed me one of those huge checks.
One afternoon, well into our fiftieth chorus of the ABC's, I saw my own reflection in Hermione's round bedroom window. Hat, ukulele and a big bold smile. I strummed a new song. "Somewhere in my wicked, miserable past, I must have done something awfully good."
First published: May, 2007
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