Eric’s personal short-wave radio had kept him informed as to my plans and he took a chance on my returning promptly to Evanston. Mother and I had barely deposited our luggage when he put in an appearance. A friend had found a suite of rooms for us in a small apartment building and we cheerfully thought our troubles were over, but we had reckoned without thought for my piano. After facing endless obstacles in renting one, when it finally arrived it proved too large to negotiate the stairway and, since we were not at home, the truck driver had pushed it into the parlour of the Reverend Taylor, the first floor tenant, and departed – leaving diplomatic relations up to us.
Mr. Taylor was a student in the divinity school, commonly called a “Bib”. He had a small church near Chicago and, like many others, had given up a lucrative position to enter the ministry. He was married and the father of a small son, with six years of study ahead, when we arrived and my piano broke into his quiet life. For the exchange of one music lesson a week to Mrs. Taylor, I was allowed to invade their privacy every day. It was a queer experience to hear myself prayed for at morning prayers behind the portieres; not that I didn’t need them!
Occasionally the small boy would part the curtains and stare at my hands as they moved over the keyboard. Once he had said, “Miss Howell, I’m going to kiss you,” and he placed a wet kiss on my cheek. Sometimes he would tell his father in my hearing that he loved to hear me sing, and often when I descended the stairs to go to a party he would be waiting in the hall to say goodnight. He was a wistful little soul, hungry for affection, and my heart warmed up to him.
Our tiny quarters upstairs consisted of a living room, a bedroom and bath, and mother devised kitchenette services in order to keep me on a diet. When the university doors swung open I was practically sitting on its front door stoop and went into action with gusto.
The School of Music (although it did not achieve that status until a year later) offered a two-year teacher’s course and I was due to receive its certificate the coming June. After that I was not worrying for Mr. Lutkin seemed to be making far-reaching plans and he finagled appearances while he mapped out a teaching project for me. One of his functions was as organist at St. James Church in Chicago, and often, at special cantata performances, he concealed me in the choir loft to hear the music and study the great pipe organ under his hands.
Winter blew in with chilling blasts and our rooms were so cold mother thought we should have to move but our friends were kind and invited us to share their firesides. The prospect of another Christmas away from Springfield, however, was distinctly depressing, and one evening when we were at tea at a friend’s, the head of the family said, “Una, how would you like to have passes to go home for Christmas?” I laughed at the irony of it. It didn’t occur to me that he really meant what he said. I did not know, then, how profitable being a United States Senator’s nephew can be.
A week or more later I was on a train with Mr. Lutkin and a party of his students when my friend came down the aisle and, leaning over my seat, said “Here are your passes, little girl, now go home and have a fine Christmas.” I could scarcely believe they were genuine and I rushed over to Mr. Lutkin to see if it were a joke.
“They look all right to me,” he said, and I was so excited I was speechless. From that moment life took on a brisker aspect, geared higher.