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“Not to the Swift” — Chapter 1 (of 6)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 12, 2011

A shorter serial this time: Julie, a gifted student of music brought to Chicago by her widowed mother, is at the age when she will have to choose her own path. Will it be what her mother has outlined for her?

From the Relief Society Magazine, 1958 –

“Not to the Swift”

By Deone R. Sutherland

Chapter 1

Chicago roared past the windows of the “elevated” train. Bleak, dark buildings, differing from their neighbors only in slight variations of size, some taller, some thinner, but all dirty, were the only “view.” Julie and her mother had often talked of moving to a cleaner suburb, but, after all, her mother worked down in the Loop, and it was more difficult for her mother to get to work than for Julie to commute to school. The elevated had merged with the subway now, and the lights of the long tunnel shot past the window in bright blurs. Julie decided she would have to quit dreaming, or she’d pass her station and have to walk back. She gave a shiver of pleasure as she could hear “Musetta’s Waltz” from La Boheme singing in her mind. She became so tired of singing for Madame Heinrich again and again the same thing over.

It was her stop! Julie barely had time to duck through the door before the train was clanging away again underneath the city. The trains never lost a moment loading or unloading the vast number of people who traveled to and fro beneath the great city. Julie checked her books and music and wallet. Yes, everything was there. The people were pushing past her. She moved with the crowd, up the stairs, into the city.

“Valse di Musetta” by Puccini – her favorite melody from the whole opera, she whispered to herself. Were there really to be no more afternoons in Madame Heinrich’s dreary flat practicing and practicing? After a year spent in private study, she was in school now. She was really registered in a big musical school in a great university with young people who had the same love of music. She felt a moment’s sadness, for Madame Heinrich had been good to her. She had been fond of Julie, and had treated her almost like a daughter. She had showed her through her thick album of her own concert days when she appeared at the Stattsoper in Vienna and the Deutsche Stattsoper in Berlin. The trunk, with the faded relics and bits of finery, fans and laces from costumes, were as familiar to Julie as the small three-room apartment that she and her mother shared.

Her mother would not yet be home from work. There was no use in ringing. Julie unlocked the outside door, closed it carefully behind her, and walked up the three flights to their apartment. Why did so many of these old apartment houses always have the same dark red carpeting for the halls and stairs? She vaguely remembered a different kind of life in childhood, but try as she might, those memories had become very dim. She stopped at the door and took out her key. How lonely the apartment house was. Even as a child she had found few friends. That was the advantage of living here, her mother had told her. “It will be quiet for your practicing, no distractions. Of course, you can’t practice after ten, but that’s to be expected in an apartment.”

The farm that she remembered from her babyhood had been quiet, too. But she had never been lonely out West. Perhaps because her father had been alive, life had not been lonely then. Even the distant mountains had seemed friendly, and the wide fields, also, she somehow remembered. She had viewed them often from the top of her father’s shoulders. He had seemed as tall as a mountain, but she had always felt safe on her lofty perch. When her father had died, those days ended. Her mother hadn’t wanted to stay out West. Her daughter, her mother said, was going to take up the career she had never had, but had wanted.

Julie opened the windows against the mustiness of the apartment. Her mother had such ambitions for her. Perhaps she didn’t have as much talent as her mother thought. She shivered and looked back at the music she had tossed on the couch that served as a couch in the daytime and a bed for Julie in the evening. the music reassured her. The melody sang again in her mind. she would play it through just once.

The piano was the only possession of real value the Markhams owned. The beautiful Steinway dwarfed the entire apartment. Julie approached the piano with love. She was aware of the sacrifices a widow with a small child had made to afford a piano like this. She would just go through the song once; she wouldn’t even sing. Well, maybe she would just sing it through once softly. Why should she feel such longing at this melody? If she were a real musician she would prefer possibly … She leaned her head against the music and looked out the window. It must be the fall weather that made her feel so emotional, the leaves turning orange and brown, the sharp coolness in the air in the early morning. The campus was another world away from the rumble of the center of the city. She would be spending all her days in that world of trees and rolling lawns and music … That must account for the longing she was feeling.

The buzzer sounded, and she jumped to her feet with a start. Quickly she pushed the button to unlock the front door and let her mother in. She dashed into the kitchen and pulled on her apron. She hadn’t even been practicing really, just dreaming. There was enough of the ham and potato casserole from last night to do. She lighted the oven and slid the dish in. She jerked open the refrigerator and pulled out the lettuce and green onions. Now if there was just one tomato left. There was, she sighed with relief. The door bell rang; her mother had come slowly up the stairs tonight. She must have had a hard day. Julie ran to open the door for her.

Mary Markham was a legal secretary. She had had drive and ambition, and when she had been faced with rearing a child alone, she had brought forth a courage she didn’t know she possessed. She had had typing and shorthand in high school, but most of her time had been spent on voice lessons and piano. Her own mother had been a music teacher, and she had had high hopes for her only daughter. Then Mary had met the missionaries. She had gone West, but there had been no musical jobs out there to find. So she had ended with a job as a filing clerk in a firm. Her letters to her mother in the East were returned unopened.

One day Mary had met the cousin of her employer, Ralph Markham. If she had not met him, she pondered sometimes, would she have returned to her mother? But Ralph Markham became the reason for every sacrifice. She had seen the farm before she and Ralph were married, but love had closed her eyes to everything unpleasant. Mary hadn’t foreseen the long days of hard work, the birth of a daughter with no relatives to exclaim over the pretty blue eyes and fair hair. She had felt like an outsider in the ward, but perhaps she hadn’t tried to be friendly. Mary sighed; it was so long ago. No doubt she had made many mistakes. There had been no money for a piano, and in the hot days, Mary had quit feeling like singing. But then little Julie had opened her sweet mouth and followed the trilling of the meadow lark in perfect imitation. Mary had thought then that she wouldn’t be able to stand it, if Julie didn’t have the opportunities she had so carelessly thrown away.

The nightmare of the accident and Ralph’s death had been more than Mary thought she could stand. She had dried Julie’s six-year-old tears and packed their few belongings. The little insurance Ralph had left had taken them back to Chicago and kept them long enough for Mary to take a course, in order to find a well-paying job where she could support Julie. She had had to find a woman to keep an eye on Julie after school, but somehow those things worked out. Mary’s mother died, never quite forgiving Mary for “throwing away her life,” but she did leave her a little money that went toward the Steinway and Julie’s first lessons.

Mary Markham glanced in the oval mirror by the front hall closet. Her gray hair looked neat and cool, and she didn’t look as old as she felt. Perhaps she wouldn’t have to worry about the new young secretary the law offices had hired. It had been hard to hear Mr. Thayer remark on how alert and quick the new secretary had seemed in regard to catching on to office procedures. Mary’s expression hadn’t changed, but the clutch of fear had been there. She had seen too many older women have to step down. Everything in life was temporary, it seemed. Still, she glanced at her face critically; perhaps she was safe for a few years yet.

“Are you tired, Mother?” Julie’s freshness made her shiver again. She was old. Too old to compete with these young things. Julie was radiant. Mary put her problems aside. Julie would be brimming over with the news of school and her new professors. All her hopes lay in Julie, and she looked at the blue eyes and the fair hair and the promise that Julie had.

“Mother, dinner’s not quite ready, but go ahead with your shower. Everything will be on by the time you’re finished. Wasn’t the city dirty today?”

Julie didn’t know why she babbled so. Her mother was looking at her oddly. She wanted to tell her mother how wonderful school was, but she couldn’t just yet. She wanted to keep the feeling to herself just a little while longer.

“Very well, Julie,” her mother said drily. There, she had hurt her mother’s feelings, the person she wanted to take care of always, the person she wanted to keep safe from everything. So she told her mother about the campus and each class and showed her her music. She sang while her mother played “Musetta’s Waltz,” and her mother nodded her head with approval. Dinner was very late, so Julie washed up while her mother showered. After she was in bed, she could remember everything for herself again.

On Sunday morning Julie sang as a soloist for a church out on North Michigan Avenue. In this way she had been able to help out quite a bit toward her own lessons and now with tuition, but the time conflicted with her Church services. Then just two weeks after she had started at the University, Julie saw a notice on the bulletin board in the music school. It said student members of the L.D.S. Church were going to organize a club and a time and place on the campus were set for the first meeting. When the ward teachers came, she told them about it. They told her that their ward had grown so it was being divided. Two wards would now be using their chapel, so the time for one Sunday School would be later. Would she be able to come to Sunday School now at this later time?

“If I caught the elevated immediately after I finish singing, I could be out to the ward by eleven,” she said happily.

“That’s good,” her mother agreed, “but don’t try to do too much. You can’t give up your work, for we need the money, and the experience you gain as a soloist is good. But I’m glad you won’t have to miss Sunday School any longer.”

But the next week Julie hadn’t been able to make the first club meeting after all. Dr. Rossi had kept her after class, but she decided she would go for sure to the very next one. And she was going to Sunday School on Sunday.

On Sunday morning she asked her mother to meet her, so they could go out to Sunday School together.

“I don’t think I’d better try it this week,” her mother answered regretfully. “I’m extra tired for some reason; I’ll need some extra rest to get through the coming week.”

“If you’d rather I didn’t go …” Julie offered doubtfully. She was wearing her new tan tweed suit flecked with bronze, and her tiny hat had a brown feather curling forward. Her hair was blond gold against the brown of her hat. She was eager to be on her way.

Mary Markham smiled and reassured her daughter, “I’ll be all right, but you hurry home after Sunday School. I’d feel better if you were riding with someone.”

“”But I don’t know anyone anymore,” Julie smiled back. “I’ll be all right.” She hurried down the carpeted stairs. She passed a woman coming up, but the woman kept her eyes averted politely. It was funny, Julie thought, how people could live in the same building, year after year, and never know each other. When she was little, there had been a lady who lived downstairs who gave her cookies, but most people kept to themselves.

The air was cool, the smell of fall everywhere. Autumn was Julie’s favorite time of the year in Chicago.

She transferred to the bus. How much nicer it was out of the city. The ride out on the elevated hadn’t been too bad, and her singing had been excellent this morning, she had been told. She thought how much prettier this chapel was than that little hall they had met in when she had first gone to Sunday school as a child. Now that she was almost there, Julie suddenly felt shy. Her mother would have marched right in, but Julie hesitated under the trees and stirred the leaves with her foot. They were singing, so she was a little late for all her hurrying. Maybe she’d better just go home; it wasn’t fair to leave her mother alone, anyway. Then she began to hear the words of the song. Why, it was about the mountaintops. It was one of her favorite hymns.

“I hope you’re coming in here to church?” Julie looked in surprise and recognition. it was Mr. Carlson from the music school. She had been assigned to one of his sections for special voice lessons. He was studying for his Ph.D. and teaching on a fellowship. Surely, he couldn’t belong to the Church, too. He had begun to smile at her surprise and confusion.

“I belong here, sort of …” Julie stammered.

“I wondered where our prize pupil really came from. I should have known with a voice like yours, you’d be from out home …” He was drawing her up the steps.

“But I really am almost a stranger … I mean I’ve missed so many times.” Julie’s face flushed again. She didn’t want to have him accepting her under false pretenses.

He stopped and smiled at her. “All right then,” he said, “we can begin as strangers here together, that is if anyone can feel like a stranger anywhere in our Church. You know, this is my first quarter back here, too, so we can get acquainted with everyone together. Agreed?”

There was no time to answer, because the door was being held open, and Mr. Carlson guided her into a bench and sat beside her. The organ was playing again, and Mr. Carlson was offering to share the book. She took hold of the edge, and as the type settled into words and bars of music, she began to sing with all the others, “Oh, ye mountains high …”

(To be continued)



5 Comments »

  1. Kareen? Is that you?

    Comment by E. Wallace — September 12, 2011 @ 12:49 pm

  2. Does everyone want their child to go up to be a famous musician? And is the corollary to today a famous athlete?

    Comment by LAT — September 13, 2011 @ 12:55 pm

  3. I think being a musician in a day when recorded music in public spaces wasn’t ubiquitous and very often annoying may have lent some prestige to music as a career. And I wonder whether the relatively limited professional career paths open to women — music being one of the truly acceptable ones — might not have played a role in the frequency with which music is showing up in these old stories. Just speculating, though.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 13, 2011 @ 1:15 pm

  4. Either the author or editor or, alas, the proprietor and type-setter of this blog, needs to practice her German.

    There is in fact a Vienna State Opera, which would be the Wiener Staatsoper if consistency were not simply the hobgoblin of small minds.

    And, there is a Staatsoper in Berlin–since 1945 its official name has been “Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin”–and its previous names included Staatsoper for a long time.

    One shouldn’t go on and on about typos–but the word “statt” in German means “in place of” or “instead of” so someone with a twisted sense of humor like me could begin thinking of what the Vienna Instead-of-Opera house is (and dreaming up all sorts of possibilities).

    And don’t even let me get started on “nacht” and “nackt”.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 15, 2011 @ 11:16 am

  5. I’m going to draft you as chief proofer of Keepa and insist that you carry out your duties, willingly or not, so that you can be blamed for such things. Sorta like making the first guy who complains about the cooking the new camp cook. Step right up, Cooky!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 15, 2011 @ 11:23 am

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