University of Alabama, 1943-1945

       Even while I felt grateful for Mrs. Lilienthal's advice on my college curriculum, I tested her patience by restlessly revising my career plans. Humanities classes appealed to me more than science classes. Eventually settling on Psychology as my major, I could look forward to work as a social scientist.

       More a visitor than a resident at my mother's home in Birmingham, I left the South as soon as I was graduated from the University of Alabama.


Envelope addressed to Carolyn from Ruth

Fall Semester 1943

       My summer as a working girl left me looking forward to one new experience after another. It was easy to think of my job at Ford Instrument as a season of earning my own living, even though my mother provided my shelter and food and most of my clothes.  I set aside enough of my pay to buy an airline ticket from New York to Birmingham. At last, to fly!  My spirit soared with the take off, and I was exhilarated to feel the plane lift after its speed-up on the runway.

       Then I gazed down to see LaGuardia Airport and my own neighborhood in Queens. The scenery grew amazingly wider and smaller, just as in the movies. My exaltation lasted until, misled by my woman-of-the-world feeling, I tried to act as grown up as the other passengers. The stewardess came down the aisle with coffee, a drink I wasn’t used to, and I took a cup and drank it. Immediately I threw up. My embarrassment and my queasiness lasted all through that first flight. Nonetheless my ardor for flying has never wavered.

       In Tuscaloosa campus life at the University of Alabama presented new challenges. Perhaps these were predictable stresses, but I hadn’t expected them. I foresaw only the joys I expected as a pre-med and a co-ed. However, the bureaucracy of registration and indoctrination, the regulations, the forms to fill out, the widespread campus, the teachers’ distant attitudes, all overwhelmed me. I soon wondered whether I could cope. Then too I missed my old friends and hadn’t yet found new ones.

       Mrs. Lilienthal’s reply to my September letter of woes makes it plain that I told her about both my schedule and my sorrows:

Monday October 4,

[1943] Dear Fledgling and Weeping Turtle,

It took you a long while to come down from the clouds. (I should like to hear about the aerial experience.)

          Your very sad note on your very blue stationery with Oriental characters was very disturbing. You’ve just begun the term, and will certainly feel at sea for even a few more weeks until you feel that you belong there. Don’t you remember how lost you felt at Montevallo at the beginning? The same thing must happen all over again.

          Your program sounds very interesting and well balanced---Though I can’t see how they pile up 21 credits with 4 subjects. I’m assuming that they don’t credit Dancing. And I hope that the Medical Physics lives up to the promise of its name. I shall enjoy hearing what you learn. And DON’T become tense and fearful! At the end of this year, if you find that studying makes you wretched instead of happy and excited, you can call it quits.

          I hope your English instructor doesn’t become apoplectic when she sees spelling like “dissapation” “existance” “correspondence”--- that trio, my dear, having been culled from your last two and one half pages.

          Don’t strive for things---just immerse yourself in them.
          Or are people troubling you?

Fondly,
R.S.L.

       She sends wise advice, reminding me that better times will come, telling me to  relax, not to panic or rush to decisions. Don’t strive for things—just immerse yourself in them.

       All too soon my next few letters to Mrs. Lilienthal revealed that I was immersing myself in some things she deplored. I was even questioning my long-held goal of earning that M.D. so as to become a psychiatrist.  Worse yet, I must have spoken of the lure of dropping out to marry. That notion was merely what-if speculation; no man then tempted me. But she took it seriously.

Sunday nicht
Oct. 24, 1943

Dear Carolyn in the Bud,

          Sister, I cannot say yea or nay, and well you should know it. If your reasons were of the sort that you didn’t want to tap your family with long years more, I’d stay in it and cry ‘no nonsense.’ But to go through a med course, bearing it a grudge for taking time from gigglings and goings, would not have a successful or a happy outcome. If the source of your joys must have a liberal studying of dates and ease, by all means let’s rein in our ambitions and spread our energies thin as the ice over deeper waters.

          Yet you don’t have to decide yet. You’re still not even functioning as a pre- med. Biology, and Physiology and Sociology are still a very good background for Social Service, Public Health, and family life. Second rate doctors are not good enough.  But whatever you do should not be far away from the field of Human Relations; this, I feel, is for your own good as well.

          Men and marriage must seem like a very attractive solution to the whole problem, but please, Carolyn, don’t fancy yourself ripe on the bough, despite the current fashions in Sophisticated Behavior for the young. 

          Your immediate job is getting good grades in your subjects this term, no matter what choice is made at the end of it.

          After commenting on Mr. Lilienthal’s eagerly-awaited furlough, she turns back to her outrage: Will your next step be the sorority?

       That needling question hurt more than any of her other rebukes. For a Hunter girl, it was the unkindest cut of all --- worse than her reference to gigglings and goings, worse than her saying that I should study Human Relations especially for my own good, worse than suspecting I might marry in haste to avoid school. My high school classmates and I had heard that sororities encouraged plenty of shallow “goings on,” and, more deplorably, sororities stood for bigotry and snobbery.

       Mrs. Lilienthal’s next letter (11/21/43) salutes me as Dear Freshman and don’t you forget it.  In the first paragraph she questions some righteous stand I took against a University of Alabama rule about participating in the student government. Then, as to my penalty for disobeying, she approves of my internment : I was restricted to my room. I do not share your anger, but see in it only benefits for you.

       Much of this letter brings me up to date on her activities and plans. One paragraph tells of Mr. Lilienthal’s posting to Atlanta, and that she hopes to visit him there. In another, she describes the lights and crowds on Broadway. And in the longest, she names three big hits on New York stages: Oklahoma, Othello, and One Touch of Venus, and describes aspects of Othello. She mentions four current films, and [Katherine] Dunham’s dancing; she praises Smetana’s Song of the River, urging me to listen to the recording.

       She closes with a question about my Comparative Anatomy class:  When you study origin and insertion of muscles, can you see them?  From that class I have never forgotten what our teacher told us in a lecture on human anatomy: You always have a specimen with you.

       In December I returned to New York for a whirling holiday—movies, a stage play or two, revisits to my favorite museums, reconnecting with friends. When I got together with Mrs. Lilienthal, I was finally able to convince her that my speed-up system for completing college was actually working. Thus the contrast between her Nov. 2, 1943, letter and her January 23, 1944, letter. No longer does she insist I am a freshman; she writes to My very dear sophomore and so quickly. After two paragraphs about the Lilienthal ménage, she spends the rest of this letter evaluating my approach to psychology as a major:

          In my humble opinion, a psychology major bolstered by philosophy and English is on the wrong track and tack. If people continue to prepare for the field of psychology in that manner, psych. will remain speculative literature and never become a science. If you want the literary exercise, major in philosophy, minor in psych. & English; if you’re still interested in the scientific and therapeutic angle, bolster the psych with sociology and physiology.

(1) Why see Dean Graves about the, medical aptitudes test when you’ve definitely rejected that possibility?

(2) And why the sudden urgency of Greek? For its relation to your courses so far, surely the translations are adequate.

(3) I shudder to think what your flair for rationalization is going to do in the Ethics course.

(4) e.g. – “The people who make the highest grades are not always the most interesting”---C.H. You’re quite right my dear, Not always [doubled underlines], just usually.

Peace be with you, dear child. Do you know what goes on in Congress? Do you read PM? Have you read the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Soviet Power? Are you kind to Jack?

Fond wishes to you for 1944!
RSL

       The letter moves from criticizing my academic choices to other sensible promptings; she would like me to think more clearly, to be at peace, to attend to current politics, and to treat Jack gently. Jack was a steady suitor that year. He was not at the university for college classes but to train for his service in the ASTP—Army Special Training Program. Those troops were allowed only one hour off duty each day. We began to spend his free hours together, and when he could get a Saturday evening off  we went to dances on campus. We were shy and tentative, yet also talkative; anyway we never ran out of conversation during our 40-minute meetings, which was the time he had left between his walks to and from the barracks.

       Since she is no longer wondering if I might quit school to get married, Mrs. Lilienthal generously reminds me to be kind to Jack. I guess she is referring to some high-handed action that I’ve told her about.   At any rate, she recognizes that, whatever my lapses in judgment, she need not worry that I would quit school to marry.


Spring 1944 in Tuscaloosa

       Saluting me as Gay Young Thing on March 11, 1944, RSL sends many comments on my school work and suggestions for self-improvement. First she says she’s very pleased that I have earned an A in English Literature, and even adds I shall enjoy living to see your name in the New York Times Book Section.

       Next she speculates about the minor in Philosophy that I’ve chosen:

I shall be interested to see whether the little science training you’ve had will condition your choices in the systems of philosophy. Shall you be a naturalistic monist, or a spiritualistic dualist? Shall you bind yourself to Bergson? Shall you begin with wishes and spin logical thoughts there from?

That third question is of course another reminder to curb my tendency to invent firm reasons for shaky decisions.

       There follows a list that she titles Random Harvest:

1—A Tree Grows in Bklyn, should be read by every snob for discomfort, and by every democrat for pleasure.
2—She who reads Time should also read PM and The Nation.
3—I’m certain that if young person ask for The Moldau, she will hear Smetana’s River
4—So glad you enjoy the dancing. In the nugget language of the subway ad, DON’T be discouraged, Do be persistent. [For PE credit I took Modern Dance.]

       At the end, like a postscript after her usual signature R.S.L. she adds ----naught of young Lochinvar? Perhaps I have learned not to report too often on my social life.

       Her praise for Betty Smith’s novel foreshadows a major theme in her next few letters. Trying to raise my social consciousness, she draws my attention to novels that expose inequalities, just as she praises activists who work for justice and racial equality.

       Her letter of April 30, 1944, describes her trip to Georgia during Hunter’s Spring Break, and then again urges me to be more sensitive to the problems of American society. She begins by telling how she enjoyed being with her soldier-husband in Atlanta walking and talking and going to moron movies and eating horrible ice cream confections, as well as attending a Passover service and a lively concert in which Oscar Levant quipped and clowned between musical pieces.

       But beautiful Atlanta showed an uglier side as well in its neighborhoods of grim poverty. After speaking of the sufferings of the Southern poor, she asks whether I have read the novel Strange Fruit. In it Lillian Smith delineates the viciousness of racial segregation; the title alludes to black bodies hanging from trees, the corpses of lynched men. In Atlanta Mrs. Lilienthal heard the author speak, and was impressed.

She has the cool neatness of a YWCA worker, the winning manner of a thoroughly charming woman, and a deep understanding of the sources of human relations and behavior. She has a summer camp for children to which I should like to send all children.

       This sketch of an activist leads to a question for me: When you read novels of social injustices, is your only reaction melancholy? ---do you wish to correct the unjust?

       She follows with short comments on a number of other topics, including President Roosevelt, then a request that I read two books about caring for my eyes. She adds a reassuring remark about my letters: Please stop apologizing about having to write about yourself and your ideas. I expect that, and am interested in it.

       After a paragraph that evokes spring in the Brooklyn Botanic garden, she closes fondly wishing me well, and patriotically signs off, Yours for F.D.R., R.S.L.

       Mrs. Lilienthal writes her next letter after I have sent her my term paper comparing two novels about the urban poor, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan set in Chicago.

       Her reply (6/11/44) was breathtaking, sharp, and profoundly corrective: Thank you for the copy of your paper. Though I am surprised and pleased by your concluding preference for the tarnished truth, I strongly disagree with you in your evaluation of Betty Smith’s aims and outlooks, and am inclined to think that you forced your opinions for want of a contrast and a criticism. no? No? NO!?

She then explains the personal slants of Farrell and Smith.

 . . . They emphasize two different pictures yet both tell the truth. Farrell is so sick and tired of the churchly platitude that Poverty is a Blessing that he must tell us how poverty is Ugliness and a Horror. The danger of his writings is that misinterpreting people infer that coarse people become impoverished and that all poor people must be coarsened --- that he of the gutter is not and cannot be the brother of him in the club lounge. Smith resents this emetic appearance of poverty and its dangerous syllogisms, and is moved to tell us how all  Human beings are varied and variable, how some of the sweetest and the best grow dwarfed in the constant struggle, how their potentialities never fruit.

       Mrs. Lilienthal wants me to recognize that when Smith dramatizes oppressions, she actually makes a plea for democracy. To do so she shows how love can be strangulated by snobbishness and minority competition and exploitation, . . . how impossible it is for poor people to get all the education they want. My teacher insists that I respect the novelist's intensity: These are not Smith’s ‘sentimental’ oozings --- they are her sentiments because of her love and compassion.

       Certainly that was a chastening response to my paper, yet enlightening. As a literary and social critic Mrs. Lilienthal goes further, recommending Henry Wallace’s Democracy Reborn, not a novel but a level-headed balance between the insights of Farrell and Smith.

       Whew! After all that scolding and instruction, RSL adds still more admonitions!

            And why haven’t I read your structure of Time?
I cannot understand why you shouldn’t be at the top of your class in Psych. I.
Read Margaret Mead’s And Keep Your Powder Dry.
(6/11/44)


Nothing to Do But Study, Summer 1944 in Birmingham

       By the time RSL wrote that critical letter to me in June, I was living in Birmingham with my mother and her new husband. Our move brought us back to the city where my mother had lived and worked in the 1920's. There she and my father met; they married in 1924, and there I was born a year later. Although we moved to Queens in 1929, my mother always stayed closely in touch with her family and friends in Alabama.

       For over three months that Summer I took correspondence courses, and earned college credit without the expense of living on campus.

       Inevitably, I was defensive when I replied to Mrs. Lilienthal about my botched paper. My rationalizations became a topic in RSL’s next letter to Birmingham, July 5, 1944. First, she comments that she enjoyed my letter, then she adds:

You say that your writings and arguments are more clear when you speak strongly about them. Undoubtedly what you say is clearer by dint of volume and intensity. But I should ask first that you hit exactly the right notes before you play Crescendo. In criticism fair maiden fair, the emotion should be the blossom that follows the thought, and not the seed that germinates it. (Don’t carry my analogy round and round again.) Ku Klux Klanners, Silver Shirters, American Firsters, Rankin, Mrs. Luce and the GOP have very sincere feelings, n’est-ce pas?

Her parenthetical caution to me, a warning against over interpreting, along with her efforts to clarify my logic, add lighter notes. She keeps prompting me to improve the mechanics of my writing:          

Why don’t you have someone proof-read your spelling and word blurs? Are you going to be an adult with a lisp? Maybe these sudden falls to the lower school levels are the reasons for the B’s. 

       Booknotes follow. For once I had surprised her with a tough-minded recommendation: Darkness at Noon. She replies that she has been intending to read Arthur Koestler’s novel, and soon. I had wanted to recommend it to you but thought it too strong for your digestion. Once again she prompts me to read Lillian Smith: Have you yet reached Strange Fruit?

       Eyestrain had been troubling me. For the second time, Mrs. Lilienthal suggests resources:

          Your eyes concern me. Please refer to Peppard’s Sight without Glasses and Huxley’s Art of Seeing, and practice some of the simple relaxing exercises. Don’t stare while you’re reading --- when you catch yourself doing that, tightly squeeze your eyes shut and rapidly blink several times ADV.

With that “ADV” for advertisement she jokes that her advice sounds promotional as well as therapeutic.

       Mr. Lilienthal had recently returned to Brooklyn on a two-week furlough; Mrs. Lilienthal describes it as a hex and a jamboree, even though those festive times overlapped her HCHS duties at the end of the semester. In her last line she sends greetings and best wishes to your mother.

       On August 1, a postcard brings the news that the beloved spouse has been sent overseas, and that she has gone to a farm in upstate New York, to serve as a harvester in the Women’s Land Army. Her following letter in August, vividly describes the stoop labor she has done picking green beans, and bemoans the aching ligaments that resulted. She also speaks sharply to me about how foolish I would be if I failed to finish my summer correspondence assignments:

            I know, my dear, that you are a pleasure-loving damsel. Yet do you not become as fretful after a period of frivolity as you do after a period of studying? So no more of the hair shirt self-flagellations. You and I see thru that. For goodness sake finish the course on time even if you have to work [20] hrs a day for a week! If you’ve learned that you don’t want any more philosophy courses, if you’ve learned that you don’t want Kant, then you’ve learned something useful. If you throw every thing up with a hooray, you won’t be sorry until you’re much older and then you’ll be too old to have to do anything about it.  Bon voyage! (8/12/44)

Later in August, she analyses my lapses in self-discipline.

           So all your restlessness stems from the fact that you chose an adulterated vacation, and rejected a pure one. Lesson #982. Of course, it takes extraordinary working discipline to labor unsupervised. Few undergrads are capable of it. You see I can’t sympathize with anyone who complains of having nothing to do but study. To me that would be the life utopian. (8/20/44)

       How could I have dared to protest about having “nothing to do but study,” especially when my studying fell behind schedule? Perhaps RSL’s statement reflects her yearning to devote more time to the life of the mind or to her wistfulness about not having a chance to pursue more academic degrees.

       The rest of this letter instructs me to read a literary classic:

          Just read Tolstoy’s War and Peace.  Yes it’s about time, but the right time. What a tremendous canvas, what understanding of human feelings & motives, what magical emergence of character, and what interesting points of view!

       She copies out some lengthy quotations in which Tolstoy expounds viewpoints on two causes of human error: our innate flaws in perceptions of time and our conflicts over methods for interpreting history.

       After such weighty matters she comes back to my procrastinating: Let me know whether you finished the assignent you set for yourself?

        Mrs. Lilienthal dates her letter of September 4, 1944 with three phrases:

Labor Day
End of Summer
Boo Hoo

Again in closing she notes her regret over the end of the season, when she signs off one more day of Pliant Freedom—and then ugh!

       Furthermore she will see less of the young nephew who so delights her:  I returned this nicht from Springfield where I had a beguiling time with my blue-eyed blond-curled, ecstatically-happy---98%-of-the-time nephew of 2 1/2 years.

       RSL imagines me hard at work completing my courses, and cheers me on with a baseball metaphor: I hope I have interrupted you whilst you were crunching Greek verbs in your cortical areas? I am at home base, my dear, rooting for you.

       Next she replies to questions of mine about factors that foster democracy: Anatole France said that nothing is good, nothing is bad; everything is good and bad. In a similar vein, people are neither alike nor different, but both. Similarly she says that my question CANNOT be answered by a yes or a no. After listing some pros and cons concerning both democracy and the control of education (whether federal, state, or local), she ends the discussion with one clear affirmation: Yes, I think John Dewey is a gifted & valuable Thinker.

       I had written to ask her about schools recommended by my psychology professors as places to consider for further study after my graduation in June 1945. Reading my speculations, she answers: I agree with you that you would not find Columbia as enjoyable as California. Eventually, study in New York City would be my choice.

       Other topics noted in this letter include news of Irene Sagan’s wedding and of RSL’s eagerness to read Aldous Huxley’s forthcoming book in which he gathers Eastern and Western readings. Perhaps this mention of an East-West anthology forecasts her future interest in Eastern spirituality.

       In this letter RSL encloses a photograph of herself, modestly calling it very flattering. It now appears on the homepage and elsewhere in this memoir. I treasured that picture along with her letters for 60 years, but I never thought of sharing them until seven years after she died.


       In retrospect I see the summer of 1944 as a time of centering for me. All that thrashing among subjects to study has been resolved. As a psychology major with a double minor in English and Philosophy, I was eager to continue with graduate work in Psychology. After many mood swings about my courses and majors, I can begin to consider which specialty within psychology would suit me best.

       That spring Jack and his ASTP cohorts had been sent overseas to the European theater. Before he left we confronted a serious misunderstanding: he expected me to date no one else until he returned from the war. That demand struck me as both uncomfortable and unrealistic. I was almost 19 and he wasn’t much older. In the end he shipped out without leaving an address where I could write to him.

       The season was stressful for RSL because she missed her soldier-spouse and worried about the dangers he might face. She found a vigorous way to take part in the war effort when she volunteered for farm work. Her happiest letters at that time tell about her delight being a doting aunt to toddler Jeff, whose mother was then pregnant. Jeff and his Aunt Ruth would cherish each other for the rest of her life.


Sept. 1944--June 1945, Work Harder Than You Think You Are

       Good ol’ Columbus Day identifies Mrs. Lilienthal’s letter of October 12, l944. On the envelope she addresses me as:

Miss Carolyn Hodgson
Senior
University of Alabama

University
Alabama

Thus she concedes that I am on schedule to meet my three-year goal and will be graduated in 1945. She also jokes about the way we can circle back to certain topics in our letters:

          To continue with the business of our Quarterly Discussion Duets: please don’t concern yourself about the disappearance of disagreement as we approach a more complete democracy. Time is infinite and parallel lines only seem to converge. Let’s worry about such fine bridges when we reach the millennium. Mr. King’s Itself and Not itself is, of course, the same concept of the Dialectic that I ‘tried’ to present in Biology viz. that every truth and phenomenon is a synthesis of opposites --- even unto metabolism = Anabolism vs. Catabolism. (I should express Law versus Liberty, and not Crime, as you put it.)

       Something that I had written to her brings up another recurrent topic, her suspicion that I don’t always appreciate the best of humanity:

          Are you impatient with the nobility of themes of self-sacrifice? Isn’t it impressive and inspiring that its power can equal & transcend that of self-preservation? ---just finished Who Walk Alone by Perry Burgess---the story of an American who contacted leprosy while soldiering in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. A variation on the same human themes. I should say that the most Signal Dialectic in modern social relationships is that the individual can realize his own identity only by merging it with the whole society.

       These philosophic matters are the core of her letter, but she ranges through many other subjects.

       As usual she wants to hear about my grades, mentioning English, Esthetics, and Drama Exams, and about my major, too.

         I’m eager to know whether you’ve been given the readership in Psych. Your three psych courses should be very revealing and rewarding, and will probably make or unmake your mind about staying in the field. Psychometrics is a very good area for investigative and practical work.

       About the weather, she complains that the respiratory season has begun and perhaps half of the city’s population sneezes, coughs, speaks froggily and looks sniffle-red.

       About my unhealthy eating habits, she asks, and how, my dear, is the state of your avoirdupois? My usual lapses get her usual attention Gawd your spelling is still startling.

       Politics loom large that autumn of 1944. Mrs. Lilienthal insists than an unwanted outcome of the coming election, FDR vs. Thomas E. Dewey, could lead to momentous changes in her life:

          Those who-hate-that-man-in-the-White House are swinging the historically effective Red Bait before those who have no memories of past performances. If Dewey is elected, I shall retire into the Cave of the Silent Wonders. 

       On Armistice Day, 11/11/44, Mrs. Lilienthal sends a post-election postcard about her distress that Thomas Dewey had attracted so many voters. He lost but not by enough to satisfy her. She consoles herself that the liberal Henry Wallace may well run for the presidency in four years.

Dewey’s large popular vote is dismaying after his disgraceful campaign performance. And there’s still Arsenic’s old Luce. Too bad. Well Wallace in 1948 is a brightening thought.

       She replies to two topics I’ve written her about, my promise to study more, and my questions about two New York City schools other than Columbia.

--- Received your mid-quarter Confession, and hope you’re on the Road to Redemption.
By new school do you mean the New York School of Social Work or the New School for Social Research? Both are good.

       My Christmas visit to the city is already in the planning stages, and the cooking teacher invites me to sample her dangerous cuisine: Perhaps you will let me poison you at supper on Sunday Dec 17th? Then we could recover at a lecture on Laski’s Faith Reason & Civilization.

       However, as her 11/26/44 postcard shows, our holiday plans must be readjusted.

Sorry to hear about the delay in your plans, but agree with you that it would not be wise to count on the early Sunday arrival.

I may not be in town during Xmas. Let’s have tea together on Thursday Dec, 21. If you can’t be at school at 3:00 P.M. do let me know, & I’ll try to arrange for another time.

       Also she approves some prospects I’ve discussed: Psychiatric social work is up the right alley. And she specifies classes that she approves for spring l945: By all means take the course in Racial Problems. I wish Lillian Smith were giving it. Don’t you think Research and Personality are the logical choices? [unsigned] . This postcard is so full of comments that she has no space left for a signature.

       Eager Beaver with a Burnished Nameplate is RSL’s salutation when she writes on 2/23/45. I can only guess, so long afterwards, what she alludes to. The Eager Beaver designation could fit in many contexts. Perhaps the Burnished Nameplate alludes to my becoming a Reader for student quizzes and papers in psychology classes.

       To my delight, her letter opens with praise for a short story I had submitted in my Creative Writing class: Your story deserves A for Excellent --- It’s the smoothest, most developed writing I’ve read from your pen. Felicitations.

       Even so, I wished she had commented about passages in the story that I had crafted so carefully. Catherine, my leading character, 20 years old, attends a women’s college in the South. (Her resemblance to her author comes a bit too close for comfort.) While traveling on a train, she broods over both past events and future prospects, wasting time and spirit in a way that my mother called “borrowing trouble.” She daydreams, then drifts beyond meandering memories into anxiety about what to expect in New Orleans. That will be her destination after this nearly 24-hour journey from her campus in Virginia. There she will confront an emotional crisis. Exactly what troubles Catherine is hidden from the readers until the last page.

       In an early scene, Catherine's uneasy thoughts are interrupted when a schoolmate stops in the aisle to chat with her. She tries to seem congenial.

“Catherine!”
She started.

“Hello Margy.” Smile and pull out your supply of trivia. How she hated casual acquaintances!

“What are you thinking about so hard?”

“Thinking? Did I look like I was thinking? Mistaken identity, I assure you. Just stunned after those corker texts.”

“Isn’t it the truth! I swear, I thought I’d drop my teeth when I read that exam in Lit History! Did you ever see such a bilgy set of questions?”

          Catherine shook her head, laughed, kept herself in accord with the ritual behavior of minor friendships on a campus. It was a relief. Catherine this, Katy that, and “Oh darling you should have seen . . .” or “Kitty dear, you can’t imagine. . .”   Pet names, endearments, dressed everyday detail. It was all surface and brittle.

       When I wrote this, I tucked current slang in the conversation—corker, drop my teeth, bilgy-- to show superficiality. Now it dates the story, 1940’s. Then I gave Margy some traits that suggest the sort of girl I initially found so hard to take among my Southern schoolmates.

          Margy rambled on characteristically, of how good it was to be going home to Tennessee, of school gossip, of the boys who were supposedly mad about her, of how she might transfer from Plum Mountain to a larger, better-known school. She was one of those people who perpetually find fault with their surroundings, yet are immensely happy there. She interspersed her roving comments with polite questions to Catherine, never waiting to receive an answer.

       Catherine’s conflict, her shifting hopes and fears, will finally be resolved as she wishes. But during her hours of travel she dreads the worst--a potentially “chill and orderly” future. Brooding, she pictures herself doomed to a conventional and overburdened existence, hiding her yearnings to rebel:

. . . a hurrying figure always, wishing for just few extra moments to pause and consider a thousand vital wonderings, the pressing, half-forgotten thoughts of a moving life. By any external standard, she supposed, her life would be judged quite adequate, well done. But living in a successful life was like acting in a successful play. It consisted of patiently re-enacting the same dreary scenes and exhausting tensions innumerable times. The critical world looked on and backstage. . .

       Now as I reread "Overnight to Tomorrow," my daring story of a rebel with a secret, I still like my plot. But I wonder why Professor Strode didn’t require a re-write to create more incidents and fewer gloomy mullings. Yet as a therapeutic exercise, it did explore apprehensions like my own, worries that Mrs. Lilienthal had for years tried to convince me to calm down about. And the theme of time threads through the nine pages of the story.

The hopes of the future either occur or are lost. Times end. Times begin. But when you live through them, day to day, it is entirely different. There are no ends, no beginnings. When had she left any of the past, attained any of the future?

       I like to imagine that I wrote about time with more depth in my philosophy term paper that RSL repeatedly asked to read.  At any rate, my professor liked the story enough to have me send it to The Atlantic Monthly’s contest for fiction by as-yet-unpublished authors. As it turned out, that submission yielded my first letter of rejection.

       Mrs. Lilienthal completes her February 1945 letter with playful comments:

          If you’ve 3 1/2 hours for delightful turns of language and a most charming humor, read Anything Can Happen by the Papashvilys.

          I have just eaten 1/2 pound (NET WEIGHT) of Barricini chocolates, and deserve the abdominal neuralgia which I am certainly going to be blighted by which.

         On, my hat, on, my coat, and into the subway to ride to Bloomer Girl.

Fondly & full of your wishes,
R.S.L.

       When she next writes, after a silence throughout March, Mrs. Lilienthal sends stark news of a death in the family. 

Monday April 2,
     Vacation Day plus 3

Dear Carolyn,  

          About that weekly meeting --- The best laid arrangements and so forth. My brother’s wife died on New Years Eve ---- and he is left with his grief and two sons, aged 3 yrs., and 3 months. So you can guess that nearly every minute of free time has been involved in family loyalties. The infant has been in my apartment for the past month.

       So much for the dialectic of life.

       She does manage once-a-week ventures to Broadway. I have fled to the theatre on five Friday evenings: Anna Lucasta, Bell for Adano, I Remember Mama, Bloomer Girl, and On The Town. You’d have liked the last three the best.

       Outings with her brother’s 3-year-old have enchanted her, too. When they go to the playground, Jeff lingers at a water-bubbling fountain. . . . after the eleventh sip of water: “want, maw wawda” “But, Jeff, you’ve already had much, much water!” “my froat dry!” I raised my eyebrow. “My stummick dry, too!”

       Turning to my schoolwork and hers, she says And now let us ascend the intellectual ladder whilst you tell us about your research problem. And in reply to my request to visit her in early June, she protests, But my dear, I shall be in the process of cramming the nervous system into overstuffed young ladies.

       The news of Mr. Lilienthal is pleasant. He has been enjoying Scotland, even getting to see Loch Lomond. Her final admonition to me is familiar, yet stated with a twist: Work harder than you think you are.

       The last letter Mrs. Lilienthal sent (5/23/45) before my graduation must have made me sigh as well as smile.  Shall you be making Phi Beta Kappa? No. It wasn’t much of a miss, and I rationalized the lapse by saying to myself that after all, on my speed-up system, 21 credits earned every semester instead of 18 or less, I ought be forgiven for a some B’s and C’s that might have been A’s at the standard pace. But I knew better by then than to offer excuses to a mentor who regularly dismissed them with You and I both know better.

       Except for her question that I could answer only with a silent sigh, her May 23 letter features news and comments on my progress and plans. She offers just a line about that so-long-re-worked philosophy paper on Time. I hope your observations on time and [dices] have made you a wiser woman. Egad, Time and its rituals were successful impedimenta twixt this letter and the mailbox. She questions my determination to return to NYC, but tries to give helpful advice:

       Do you still aim to spend the summer in this oven-like brick-dusty city? (I did not recommend the New School. I endorsed it as one of your choices.) Although some students I knew there a few years ago were enthusiastic about it, the recent ones seem comparatively dampened.

       Half of this letter features Jeff, now in nursery school. For three paragraphs RSL records his words and actions in various situations. One example: “What grass eats?” “Grass eats water.” “No peenuts?” (Explanation lest you think he is no logician: we throw peanuts on the grass for the pigeons.)

       She mentions that Mr. Lilienthal’s posting in England may continue for months, and observes that waiting is weakening.  That short comment hints at more emotion than she usually reveals. Lastly, she insists, as she has before, that I should stay politically alert: And you, my dear, should be reading Max Lerner’s editorials in PM.

       Mrs. Lilienthal's letters during my final semester describe some of her day-by-day activities, ranging from enjoying plays to tending to her nephews. When I ask, she sends advice as always. Evidently I wrote her about my classes and my reading more than about close friends and special faculty members. Such people meant a great deal to me, but I assumed she would never meet them.

       On April 15, 1945, President Roosevelt died. That was the most memorable stark day since Pearl Harbor. My friends and I had hardly known any other president; when he was elected in 1932 we were too young to be aware of earlier ones. We did have a deep awareness of living in wartime, and we felt our president's death very personally. We were shaken.

       In May we submitted our final papers and took our final exams as seniors. Those last hurdles of our college years were serious matters. Yet spring came to the campus, and we began to think more about the next new worlds to conquer than about old cycles of study. I was excited to leave my mother's house for good, even to leave her home state of Alabama. Although she had lived in New York for a number of years, 1929-1943, Alabama had always been home to her. Neither the State nor the South felt like a lasting home to me. I could twist the cliché about NYC as "a nice place to visit, but no place to live," so as to apply it to Birmingham. New York City was home for me. Occasionally Mrs. Lilienthal continued to tease me by calling me "Miss Alabama," but she knew I had become a big city girl by choice. Already my Southern kin began to recognize me as a Northern Liberal.

       Other moments from my last weeks in Tuscaloosa are etched in memory. The papers and exams, I hardly recall, but I remember well the little dramas of weepy goodbyes exchanged with friends. We made promises to stay in touch, even while we feared we might never meet again.

       On the afternoon of my graduation day in early June my creative writing teacher, Hudson Strode, took me to the college president's house to meet Edward Weeks, the Editor of the Atlantic Monthly; he had been our graduation speaker at that morning's ceremony. Probably I was the only graduating senior in Professor Strode's class that semester, and so I lingered after the others had left campus. That occasion was one I surely reported to Mrs. Lilienthal. Her hopes for me as a future writer were steadier than my own. With her approval, I left the university as a double major, Psychology and English.

       Clearing my dorm room, I packed the huge metal trunk that I had shipped from Queens to Montevallo in 1942, stuffing it with whatever I wanted my mother to store safely as I ventured North to begin real life. On top were winter clothes to be mailed to me later. Into the rest of the trunk I gathered RSL's letters and Sara's and Jolie's, some college texts and papers, and souvenirs for future scrapbooks. Later when visiting my mother's house I sometimes sorted through my memorabilia and culled them more and more, but I never discarded letters. The trunk with those bundles of letters finally rejoined me nearly a decade later, after I had a place of my own.

       My debts to my mother are beyond counting. One favor that she never thought much about was preserving those artifacts of my youth.


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