“Not to the Swift”
By Deone R. Sutherland
Synopsis: Julie Markham and her widowed mother lived in Chicago, where Julie was studying music. When her work at the music school was finished, Julie was offered a scholarship in New York City. However, she gave up the scholarship and married Professor Craig Carlson, a teacher at the school. They went West for their temple marriage and Craig began teaching in a small college. In the fall Julie found that she was expecting a child.
Craig’s and Julie’s baby was born in April. Julie told Craig that this beautiful time of the year was the perfect season for babies. The winter had passed quickly. Julie had continued singing with the ward choir and the Singing Mothers because she could sit in the back rows and not feel too conspicuous. But she didn’t have time to feel lonely that winter. There began to be frequent visits to the house from Craig’s students. Finally Craig and Julie decided on definite nights twice a month for the students to come. They also joined a social group composed of the faculty from the music department that met once a month.
Craig made final arrangements with his mother to buy his grandmother’s house.
“We really have a home,” Julie said happily when everything was taken care of at the bank.
Craig looked contentedly about the living room. “A home that’s not only lovely, but has a definite character,” Craig said pompously, trying to tease Julie a little.
“No, seriously, this house does have a feeling, Craig, a kind of continuing-on feeling. I mean, no matter how much we’ve decorated or changed things, there’s still a feeling of the families of the past and the families of the future in this house.” Julie drew the drapes slowly, for it was time to turn on the lamps. “I know I’m being silly and imaginative, but sometimes I have a feeling that I’ve known your grandmother. Of course, it’s just from the things you’ve said, but there’s a gentle, loving feeling about the house.”
Craig put his hand on Julie’s and stopped her from closing the drapes. For a moment they did not turn on the lights. The white snowy night outside gleamed palely through the window.
“She was a gentle, loving woman, Julie, like you. The house was waiting for you.”
They finished two more bedrooms upstairs during that winter, one for the baby and one for Julie’s mother.
“If she will only come,” Julie sighed. She had written asking her mother to come to stay with her after the baby was born. Her mother had written that she would try, but could make no promises.
The first of the recitals of graduate students began in April, and Craig had to attend many of them.
“You must come, too,” Craig told her. “I would be too worried about you at home.” But much as Julie enjoyed the music, the evenings began to be too tiring for her.
“I’m really better off at home,” Julie told him. “I can call Sister Baer or any of our neighbors.”
“I’ll have Sister Baer come over and sit with you,” Craig said worriedly one evening, but Julie laughed.
“I really don’t need a sitter. I’ll be all right. besides, you’re only gone two hours or less.” Julie kissed him goodbye and leaned back on the sofa until the front door closed. She should catch up on her ironing. There were only those few things from this morning’s washing, but she had rested most of the afternoon, so she had left them. She got up heavily from the sofa and avoided the mirror in the hall. She set up the ironing board in the kitchen and attached the iron. She carried the clothes in from the back porch. They would take only twenty minutes or so. There was a catch in her back again. She got the stool and sat down. It must be her weight that was making her back ache so unexpectedly tonight. Unless this was the time for the baby. Her heart began to pound. Craig had just left. She began to iron. She would watch the clock. Maybe those aches were coming regularly.
Julie finished the ironing and put everything away. She walked slowly through the house. Everything was in order. She hated to leave the house, even for a few days. “Please let everything go all right,” she whispered. She brought her suitcase and coat down to the front hall. Everything was ready. Well, she would phone Dr. Carter and alert him. “I’ll call the hospital,” Dr. Carter assured her. “You come right on in. Tell Craig not to drive too fast; there isn’t that much of a rush, but you can leave now. They’ll call me when you get to the hospital.”
Julie put the receiver back on the hook. Craig had been gone a little over an hour. She hated to call. She waited another fifteen minutes. Then she dialed the number and listened to the lonely unanswered rings at the other end. There would be no one in the box office, but surely someone would hear the call, would come out of the music hall and walk across the echoing foyer to stop the shrilling rings of the phone.
It was not going to be answered. She would have to hang up and then what? “Hello, hello!” It was Craig’s voice. Julie felt weak with relief. “Craig, darling, I’m sorry to disturb you, but …”
“I’ll be right home. Will you be all right until I get there?”
Julie reassured him. She was perfectly all right now that she had heard his voice. She knew he would be there in plenty of time. She leaned back to wait. Everything was all right.
The ride to the hospital in the sparkling April evening began a series of sharp and wonderful memories for Craig and Julie. Their baby boy was born shortly after midnight. Drowsily Julie told Craig how beautiful he was, and Craig told Julie that there was no baby to compare with this one.
Julie fell asleep holding Craig’s hand. She awoke the next morning to the bustle of a hospital day and the miracle of a new baby.
Craig’s mother came over every day to help her after she came home from the hospital. And Craig was more competent than she had ever thought possible. The hurt because her mother had not come subsided with the wonder of the baby. There was nothing in the whole world to compare with this.
It was harder after Craig’s mother no longer helped her. Craig was very busy at school because of the rush at commencement time. Julie worked on a schedule to try to keep up with the housework, but baby Ralph Craig Carlson was oblivious to Julie’s plans. As the months passed she wheeled him from room to room so she could straighten the house and keep him happy at the same time.
She paused at the piano. “I spend more time dusting this piano than I do playing it,” she announced ruefully to the round-eyed chubby Ralph. He looked back at her complacently and swung a dimpled hand in the air. She paused to watch him kick steadily out of his light blanket. Oh, there was no doubt, he was the smartest baby …
July and August were hot, and the baby was fretful. “It’s not his fault,” Julie defended him. “He’s just copying his mother.”
Craig was teaching summer school, and with another baby due next March, Julie hated to get up in the mornings. By October the nausea was a thing of the past, and Julie was singing occasionally again. She liked the winter here. Of course, it was drier in the West, but the best thing about the snow was its wonderful cleanness. How it sparkled on the hillsides and in the gardens.
Julie sang at stake conference, her eyes resting briefly on Craig’s mother smiling at baby Ralph on her knees while Daddy played and Mama sang. She had such joy to sing about now. And the new baby they were expecting. Oh, how they would love him.
The speaker was commenting on her singing, and now he was referring to her as a beautiful young mother. Julie had reclaimed Ralph, and he had gone to sleep against her shoulder. Yes, she loved singing, but this calling was greater than any other. If she could only make her own mother see.
After conference, Miss Hightowers stopped her. Oh, yes, surely Julie remembered her. She had once taught Craig. Yes, she taught the fifth grade. Miss Hightowers wondered if it would be possible for Julie to come to the school. She would like her to sing in her class, Thursday or Friday afternoon would be fine, though Friday would be better. “Children should hear good music when possible.”
Sing to fifth graders! Julie had graciously agreed, but surely a roomful of squirming children … What had her mother said, “They’ll expect you to perform at impossible places for no reward, not even appreciation …” She would ask Craig about this. Why, it wasn’t even a school in the town, but one further out than they were. She could telephone and say she couldn’t do it. That Miss Hightowers was definitely eccentric; look at the way she dressed – those long skirts and that old-fashioned hair style that hadn’t been changed for how long?
Craig smiled when Julie told him about the invitation. “Yes, she is a little different, but don’t underestimate her. She’s a real teacher. Mother can tend Ralph; she’s always looking for an excuse to come see him. I’d accept if I were you, Julie.”
Julie drove the station wagon carefully through the snowy streets. The chains were on, but still it was slippery going, and it was a little frightening going up these hills. There was the school now, an old red brick building, square and ugly. She parked the car and picked up her music. Miss Hightowers had offered to accompany her on the piano, if necessary. Well, it would be necessary, she imagined, though what to sing was a real problem. Something light or semi-popular, she supposed. Something for children. She climbed the dark stairs, smelling the odor of snowsuits and damp rubber boots. It was a small country school; rooms five and six were upstairs. The door was open, and Julie caught sight of Miss Hightowers’ wispy hair. She had evidently been reading and now had paused. She was seated in a straight-backed chair by the window. In a moment she began to read again. Julie had regained her breath after climbing the stairs, but now she must remove her boots and wraps. Anyway, Miss Hightowers surely had good control over her room. There was no noise except the rumbling sound of Miss Hightowers’ voice. What was she reading to those children? Something from Manfred.
Mont Blanc is the monarch of mountains;
They crowned him long ago
On a throne of rocks, in a robe of clouds,
With a diadem of snow …
The voice paused and again there was no sound. Miss Hightowers was watching the snow outside the window. Finally a boy’s voice asked, “Did somebody write those words, Miss Hightowers?”
The teachers’ eyes turned to the sweat, to the boy, to the question. “Yes, someone named Lord Byron.”
Now Miss Hightowers was not reading. She leaned her head against the chair and finally her rich deep voice began again:
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve;
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rock behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Julie leaned against the coat rack in the hall.
“Say it again, Miss Hightowers, one more time,” a child suggested.
Julie closed her eyes. Could she do anything for these children that would be comparable to this? Again a long pause and then a boy’s voice. “Where can you find that to read, Miss Hightowers?”
“In the Shakespeare book on my desk,” the teacher answered. “I’ll find you the place after class if you really want to see it.”
Now, she was quoting something by William Blake. No wonder Craig appreciated poetry now. He had had a teacher like this. It was past time for Julie to be there. She waited a moment and then came in the door. Miss Hightowers looked up at her vaguely for a moment, then smoothed at her wispy hair and came forward. But this time Julie saw the dark intelligent eyes behind the glasses, the long line of her forehead and the firm chin. This woman would know exactly what anyone could really do, Julie felt. Julie took her hand briefly.
Miss Hightowers said only, “Mrs. Carlson has come to sing to us for a while this afternoon.”
Julie felt her hands moisten. She was facing a group of fifth graders, and she was as frightened as she had ever been in her life.
“Would you like the piano?” But Julie scarcely glanced at the brown wooden upright in the corner. “No, it isn’t necessary, Miss Hightowers,” and she smiled and relaxed and began to sing. Her music lay unopened on the desk.
Afterwards, she was never sure just how she had decided the songs. Greig’s “I Love Thee,” Dvorak’s “Songs My Mother Taught Me,” Mendelssohn’s “On Wings of Song” – she sang to those listening children, children who listened because their teacher had led them to listen.
Julie thought about Miss Hightowers. Perhaps such moments were possible with students because Miss Hightowers respected their ability to listen and appreciate. She gave them each that gift, that dignity.
After school as she passed many children sliding and snowballing down the hill and heard their laughter and shouts to each other as she drove home, she wondered if she could have imagined the experience as being something more than it was.
She was still puzzling over the afternoon when Craig helped her with the dishes. He laughed a little when she tried to tell him about the afternoon and how hard she had tried to sing her very best.
“Yes,” he smiled, “that’s Miss Hightowers, she brings out that urge to do your best. To do something better than she’s ever heard before. She always assumed I’d go on to college, do graduate work. She implied I had a certain talent for music. So, of course, I did. You couldn’t disappoint her. But it wasn’t simply music. Every individual endeavor was worthwhile, if you know what I mean …”
Julie nodded her head slowly. “Yes, I think I see what you mean. I mean I felt it with her somehow …” Then Julie laughed. “Mother would say that it’s too bad such a woman is buried out here in the country.”
“Why?” Craig asked seriously, but the telephone was ringing in the hall. Craig dashed to get it before it awakened the baby.
Julie folded the dish towels over the rack. Craig was calling her from the hall. She met him at the door.
“Hurry, Julie, it’s long distance. Now, don’t get excited. It’s person to person …”
He made her sit in the chair, and after she had assured the operator that she was Mrs. Craig Carlson, her mother’s voice came over the phone.
“Julie, Julie, dear. It’s Mother. Are you feeling well?”
Julie assured her everything was fine; she was in the best of health. “Julie, Mr. Thayer says I’m going to be able to have two weeks off. No, not in March, I’m sorry to say. That’s a terrible month with taxes and all. I’m flying out next week. Julie, can you hear me?”
“Oh, Mother, that’s wonderful. We’ll meet you; just give me the plane and the time you’re leaving. What time should you arrive?”
After she hung up the phone, Craig was there to lean against. He put his finger against her lips.
“I’ll help houseclean every afternoon the rest of the week and all day on Saturday. I’ll postpone my private lessons because this is a real emergency …”
He was teasing her, but he knew how she felt. She didn’t deserve such a perfect husband. Her mother would be seeing Ralph for the first time. Everything would have to go perfectly, for her mother was coming at last, and she would see how wonderful everything was.