October – warm and seductive one day, cool and bracing as rare wine the next – poured her rich dyes on town and countryside. And, as leaves danced crisply on sidewalks, our family morale wavering from grief arose and steadied under the pressure of work.
For several months Maynard’s credentials had been circulating through agencies and, almost without warning, he landed a post in a Chicago mail-order firm. At the same time Mary slid quietly into an Evanston kindergarten as an assistant and, true to his promise, Mr. Lutkin bequeathed to me all his juvenile pupils. Mother immediately assumed care of Lilly’s children and we all clicked into gear to the tune of David’s scarlet fever, a not too melodious accompaniment.
On a day before my wheels had fairly begun to turn, Dean Lutkin (we were a school now) asked me to follow him to his studio and as I pattered down the hall I wondered “What now, O fate?” I was not left in doubt. When he spoke, the director was in none too happy a mood. “Some of you young ladies have more than your share of gifts,” he said, to my puzzlement. “Mr. Hackett tells me that you have a promising voice. He wishes to offer you a scholarship available for which you will be expected, in return, to do studio accompanying.” He paused to get the effect of his disclosure. He must have seen how excited I was for he added, “I am almost sorry because effects are made with less work in singing and the temptation to do less work is strong, in other words to drift away from instrumental practice, and I cannot willingly let you give up the piano.”
“O, I wouldn’t think of such a thing,” I said and rushed home to tell Mama the good news. I had been furiously writing songs for years beginning with lullabies and now on the subject of unrequited love. Now I would be able to sing them.
I had my first lesson almost immediately and was likely to burst forth with “O, it’s summer in the country” or “C’mout, c’mout my dearest dear” without preamble.
For every success, however, there is an antidote. Once when I admired a man’s garden and the perfection of his cabbages and cauliflowers, he said, “For every plant that grows there is a special worm or insect whose business it is to destroy it.”
I certainly agreed with him, for already I had discovered a green-eyed creature snaking about in my presence, gnawing holes and seeking to do other disturbing damage.
My worm was the wife of a man connected with the university. For years she had been tireless in her efforts to undermine me. Finally it came to the attention of a friendly professor and he advised me to bring the issue to a head. Acting on his advice, I wrote her a note inquiring why she disliked me and telling her that I wanted her for my friend. With the missive I sent a gift and flowers.
For days it brought no response. Then her husband made an appointment for her to meet me. It was cancelled the next day without comment.
Two weeks later she came to my home and offered elaborate explanations that explained nothing. As she held forth I felt as if I had sat by and witnessed a soul in the process of shrivelling and when her squirming was over I knew that no affront she might offer in the future could hurt me. That particular worm had rendered itself impotent.
Mother had been almost angry at the note I had written. She thought I was all but inviting accusations from what she was pleased to call “An unprincipled woman.” She vehemently shared the lurid details with Dell Eberhart and Dell, always loyal to me, agreed.