Amanda, a small-town minister’s daughter with hopes for a musical career, and Gillian, a hot-tempered aspiring actress from the Bronx, met at college. A decade later, one is happily married to an ambitious lawyer while the other is entangled in a passionate but troubled affair with a young man who’s spent five years in a navy prison.
The other women in Amanda and Gillian’s lives mirror the choices they make and the secrets they share. Gillian’s mother-in-law, Julia, is haunted by a wartime affair and its tragic consequences. Amanda’s precocious teenage niece, Kate, belongs to a booming postwar generation that will radically change American society. Nevertheless, Kate knows that many of the challenges she faces as a young woman have been met and endured by her aunt and countless other women throughout history.
Taking readers on an emotional journey through mid-twentieth-century America, author Evan Hunter paints an indelible portrait of romance, friendship, and sisterhood. Mothers and Daughters is a wide-ranging and poignant masterpiece from one of America’s most beloved storytellers.
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Mothers and Daughters
By Evan Hunter
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1961 Evan Hunter
All rights reserved.
She heard the shovels scraping on the campus walks when it was still dark, and she sat bolt upright in bed and thought Snow! and then almost called out in excitement to the bed across the dormitory room until she remembered Diane had changed rooms and the bed was empty. The word snow rushed into her mind again, and she threw back the covers and rushed to the window. The floor was cold. She hopped from foot to slipperless foot as she wiped the window clear of condensation and peered out over the campus. Snow, and it was still falling, whispering, hushed. Snow, and the university lights were almost obscured in a dizzy swirl of white. A sudden gladness clutched at her heart, squeezing an unconscious grin onto her face.
"Oh, good, it's snowing!" she said aloud, and she ran back to her bed and pulled the quilt to her chin and crossed her arms over her breasts and lay in the darkness smiling, thinking of Minnesota and the woods, and walking behind her father and her sister when they went out to cut down the tree for Christmas, the air so cold you could break it off and hear it tinkle in your fist, the snow thick and silent underfoot except for the steady squeaking crunch of her father's boots. She lay in bed with the smile on her face, and she could not sleep. She thought of the way the snow would bank high against the kitchen door behind the rectory, and the tight snug snowed-in feeling of the house at evening prayers, the fire blazing high in the stone fireplace, the smell of pitch, the crackling spit of new wood; she could not sleep. Dawn broke against her window in silent grayness, sunlessly.
She got out of bed wide awake and quickly took off her pajamas.
"Whooo!" she said. "Whooo!" She put on her underclothing quickly, the cold bringing out goose bumps all over her body. She put on a skirt and her thickest sweater, and then she went down the hall to wash and brush her teeth. The dormitory was still. She was the only person alive in the entire world.
The campus was a line drawing that November day, black and white, everything so sharp and so clear. She felt she could see for miles, beyond the low brick wall hemming in the university grounds, and into the town of Talmadge itself, and beyond that into all Connecticut and New England, and to exotic places over the sea; her visibility was limitless that day. The snow lay untouched on the open campus fields and banked high on the sides of each walk. It seemed totally flat and one-dimensional, artificial. The bare trees behind it were black in silhouette against the gray sky. There was no color that day. It was odd. Even the red brick of some of the buildings seemed colorless.
She stopped on the low flat steps of the dorm and scanned the grounds, her eyes traveling in a slow circle, and then she pulled off one of her red mittens and scooped up a handful of snow. She held it in her palm until her hand stung, and then she bit into it, smiled, and tossed the remainder of the snow into the air. She wiped her hand on her coat and started out across the campus, walking rapidly, her hand tingling from the snow.
She passed the three chapels guiltily — well, she would say her morning prayers while she practiced — and then went on past the old campus on Fieldston Street, and then turned abruptly right onto Townsend and past the Townsend Memorial Library and the Town-send Law Buildings, each building topped with a wig of snow so that it resembled a British barrister begging a point of order. She was anxious to get at one of the pianos in the rehearsal rooms. She was hungry, but she could get a cup of coffee from the machine in the basement of Ardaecker. She could not bear the bustle of the student cafeteria this morning, not this glorious morning when she was feeling so wonderfully alive.
I love it here, she thought, but I do miss home, but I love it here, and again she marveled at the miracle of being here at all. She could remember first receiving the Talmadge catalogue, and the frightening entrance requirements for the School of Music and the major in composition. Did she know modal counterpoint? Could she harmonize chorale melodies in the style of Bach? Apprehensively, she had read through the list of topics to be covered in the examinations: the rudiments of music, the perception of rhythm and pitch, modulation, non-chordal notes, altered chords, two- and three-part fugue writing, three-part motets.
She had looked up at her father suddenly and said, "This is impossible! They're out of their minds!" and then immediately buried her nose in the catalogue again.
There would be keyboard tests in reading scores of two to four staves in different clefs (including alto and tenor clefs), tests in transposition, in harmonizing figured and unfigured parts, an oral test on the theory of music. And, to cap it all, she was required to submit at least four original compositions, one of which had to be polyphonic in character, "such compositions to be delivered to the Talmadge School of Music not later than March 1, 1941."
"They're out of their minds!" she had said again.
And yet she had done it, and here she was, starting her third semester, and it seemed she had been here forever. Had she really known anything at all about music before she entered Talmadge? How in the world had she ever passed the entrance exams? A miracle, that was all. The power of prayer. She drew in a deep breath and felt the cold air hammering her body to life again. She smiled suddenly. There was a tinge of expectation to the day, somehow, as if something were going to happen — oh, she just wished it would, just around the turn of the walk; still she knew nothing would happen, but wouldn't it be great if something did? But she knew nothing would.
And then she heard footsteps on the walk ahead of her, and for an instant her heart stopped, and she caught her breath. She felt as if she had made a pact with the devil. Now I've done it, she thought, and stopped stock-still, waiting for God-knew-what blinding explosion of evil.
She almost laughed aloud when Morton Yardley came into view around the bend.
"Morton!" she said, relieved. Her voice rang on the campus stillness, startling him. He stopped on the path and peered out from under the hood of his Mackinaw, billows of vapor steaming from within the cowl.
"Oh, hullo, Amanda," he said.
She smiled. "Hello, Morton."
"It's too cold," Morton said.
She liked Morton. He was one of the few boys on campus she could talk to. She had first met him in her class on Bach's Organ Compositions. He was a divinity student taking the course as an elective, and really a pretty fair organist, not as good as her father, of course, but with a good keyboard sense nonetheless. He had been puzzled by the tonality of one of the preludes, and she'd stayed after class explaining it to him, liking him instantly even though there was an air of displacement about him, as if he had already taken a personal vow of poverty and chastity. She had hardly ever seen him without his hooded Mackinaw. He wore it well into the spring, always with the hood up, as though he had secretly joined a monastic order ages ago and was only going through the motions of an uncloistered life. He always made her smile. He had a round cherub's face, and a well-padded paunch, and guileless blue eyes, and a very high voice, the physical equipment of a jolly Friar Tuck. And yet he was an oddly solemn and detached boy, a thin boy wearing a fat boy's body, a boy who walked with the curiously sedate and pensive motion of an old man talking to pigeons in the park. Still, he made her smile.
"Winter intimidates the soul," he said, somewhat balefully. "It's too cold. If the sun is God's eye, why doesn't He open it today?"
"But it's a wonderful day," Amanda said, smiling.
"Well, for you, I guess," Morton said. He saw the puzzlement on her face and added, "Or don't you know yet?"
"Well, never mind."
"Know what, Morton?"
"No, never mind. I've got to hurry. I'm late for chapel."
She caught his arm and stepped into his path. "Don't I know what yet?"
A rare and secret smile crossed Morton's face. "Where are you going now?"
"Ardaecker. What should I know that I don't know?" "You'll see."
"Don't be mean, Morton!"
"I'll talk to you later. When are you eating lunch?"
"Fifth hour. Morton, what —"
"I'll meet you in the cafeteria. I'll buy you a cup of coffee, okay?"
"All right, but ..."
Morton retreated into his cowl and started off down the path in stately dignity. Amanda stared after him, her hands on her hips. An expression of disappointment crossed her face, a translation of emotion into exaggerated grimace, the honest and direct translation of a seven-year-old, curious on the face of Amanda Soames only because she was nineteen. The expression faded. She stood watching Morton a moment longer, and then she turned and continued walking toward Ardaecker Hall.
She unslung her shoulder bag, took off her jacket, and threw it onto one of the benches along the basement wall. She dug into her purse, found a nickel, and quickly put it into the coffee machine. Sipping from the cardboard container, the steam rising about her face, she walked idly toward the bulletin boards on the wall opposite the benches.
She was alone in the building. She could hear the huge oil burner throbbing somewhere beyond the solemn green lockers with their hanging combination locks. The basement walls were painted a sterile pale green. Three overhead light globes cast a harsh glow onto the concrete floor. The heating ducts and vents overhead were painted in the same cold green, and the water pipes were covered with astringent white asbestos. She walked idly and slowly, unconsciously female, totally unaware that she added a badly needed tonal softness to the otherwise drab basement. She never thought of herself as beautiful, or even as attractive. "Vanity is a sin," her mother had taught, and she'd accepted this unquestioningly, startled sometimes by the sight of her own naked body in the mirror, surprised by the lushness of it, as shocked as if she'd seen a naked stranger, and embarrassed.
The boys at Talmadge did not find Amanda beautiful, but they did think she was attractive. If there was nothing unusual about her shoulder-length blond hair, or her brown eyes, or her mouth, or the gentle curves of her body, she was still pleasant to watch because she looked so incredibly soft. One of the freshman boys had probably described her effect most accurately during a cafeteria discussion, which caused Morton Yardley to leave the table quite suddenly. They were speculating on Amanda's potential when one of the boys asked, "Did you ever try to kiss her? It's like invading France."
"I never even think of kissing her," another boy said. "In fact, I never think of sleeping with her."
Morton, eating a sandwich at the other end of the table, retreated further into his hood.
"Yeah, yeah, you never think of sleeping with her," the first boy said.
"I mean it. I swear to God. Never with her."
"She's the softest girl I've ever seen in my life. I think of sleeping on her," and it was then that Morton put down his sandwich and left the table.
Unconsciously female, Amanda tossed the empty coffee container into the big trash barrel and studied the first of three bulletin boards. There were the usual notices assumed to be of interest to Music majors: a meeting of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society, a new award for the best violin-cello duet composed by an undergraduate, a dance recital to be given at the University Theater in co-operation with the Drama School, a revised schedule of fees for practice rooms, Fifteen dollars an hour, that's outrageous! she thought, a special rehearsal of the marching band before the Yale game on Saturday, had she promised Diane she would go? She wished Diane hadn't joined a sorority; it made it so difficult to keep up with her. Still, the Sig Bete house was closer to most of her classes. She made a mental note to call Diane and began scanning the second board. Blah-blah, the usual garbage; there was still a notice there about the Halloween Ball, didn't they ever take anything down? Her eye was caught by a frantic, hand-lettered note.
* IMPORTANT * IMPORTANT *
I have lost three pages of an English theme due in Eng 61.12 on Friday, November 13th! Please, please, if you have any information, please contact me, Ardis Fletcher, locker number 160 in Baker Dorm.
Amanda smiled and moved effortlessly toward the third and final board. It was just like Ardis to have lost those pages. If the rumors about her were true, she'd lost just about everything else she'd owned by the time she was fifteen. There didn't seem to be much on the last board. She was turning away when she stopped, alarmed because her name had leaped out at her suddenly from one of the typewritten pages. Even as she moved back toward the bulletin board, she knew that this was what Morton had meant, and she felt an anticipatory excitement. She read the notice with slow deliberation, allowing the excitement to build inside her.
School of Music
November 9, 1942
NOTICE TO ALL MUSIC MAJORS IN COMPOSITION
In re all musical compositions submitted for consideration for annual Christmas Pageant. Drs. Finch and MacCauley have now judged all submitted songs, ballets, and incidental music and wish to announce the selection of the following compositions for inclusion in the show:
Introduction and Prelude
Vamp 'Til Ready
Still and Bright
An einem gewissen Morgen Margit Glück
She stood before the bulletin board, and she read the notice a second time, and then once again, and she thought, Both ballets are mine, and she thought, This is one of the happiest days of my life, and there in the silent basement she began weeping.
"You should have told me, Morton," she said to him later.
"What?" he asked. "I can't hear you."
She raised her voice above the student roar in the cafeteria.
"You should have told me!" she shouted. "About the Christmas Pageant."
"And spoil the surprise? Not a chance." He sat opposite her at the long table, spooning vegetable soup into the cave formed by the hood. "I wish I could have been there when you read the notice."
"Morton, do you know what I did?"
"I began crying."
"Because I was so happy."
"It's what I did," Amanda said. "I can't help it. I cry easily."
"Did I congratulate you?"
"No, you didn't. And don't think I didn't notice, either."
"Congratulations. I'm very proud of you. You want some coffee?"
"No. Aren't you warm? Why don't you put down that hood?"
"I feel fine. Listen, are you going to the game Saturday?"
"I don't know. I don't remember whether I made plans with Diane or not. Why?"
"I thought we might go together," Morton said, shrugging.
"It's in New Haven, you know, and I have got the car."
"Oh, all right," Amanda said. "Morton, can you imagine it? Both ballets are mine. Do you know how many were submitted?"
"I don't know, but plenty, I'll bet. Morton, do you think I really have talent?"
"I guess so. Yes. Yes, you have."
"I mean, really. I mean, do you think it's really professional talent? I don't mean by college standards."
"Now, how would I know, Amanda?"
"I'm only asking your opinion."
"I don't know the difference between just ordinary talent and professional talent. What's the difference, Amanda?"
"Well, professional talent ..."
"Is what people pay for, right? Well, people are going to pay to see the Christmas Pageant."
"That's different. They only go because it's tradition."
"I would say, offhand, that if you have to ask whether or not your talent is professional, chances are it isn't."
"That's a nasty thing to say, Morton."
"I wasn't trying to be nasty."
"I will have a cup of coffee. Wait a minute, Morton. Just a minute. Do you know how I feel?" She leaned across the table, her eyes bright. "I feel as if the day is just starting. I feel as if that notice was only the beginning."
"How do you mean?"
"Morton, you won't tell this to anyone?"
"Your word of honor?"
"My word of honor."
"I feel as if this is going to be the most important day of my life."
"How can you possibly tell that?"
"I just feel it. Inside."
"Well, okay," Morton said, and he shrugged.
"Don't you believe me?"
"Sure, I do." He stood up. "Cream and sugar?"
Excerpted from Mothers and Daughters by Evan Hunter. Copyright © 1961 Evan Hunter. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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