Cornelia Conger, was the granddaughter of Mr and Mrs. John Lyons, the Swami’s first hosts in Chicago in September 1893. She was six years old when she met the Swami and wrote of him in part:
“He seemed to feel especially close to my grandmother, who reminded him of his own mother. She was short and very erect, with quiet dignity and assurance, excellent common sense, and a dry humor that he enjoyed. My mother, who was a pretty and charming young widow, and I-who was only six years old-lived with them. My grandmother and my mother attended most of the meetings of the Congress of Religions and heard Swamiji speak there and later at lectures he gave. I know he helped my sad young mother who missed her young husband so much. . . .
My memories are simply of him as a guest in our home-of a great personality who is still vivid to me! His brilliant eyes, his charming voice with the lilt of a slight well-bred Irish brogue, his warm smile! He told me enchanting stories of India , of monkeys and peacocks, and flights of bright green parrots, of banyan trees and masses of flowers, and markets piled with all colors of fruits and vegetables. . . . I used to rush up to him when he came into the house and cry, "Tell me another Story, Swami," and climb into his lap. . . . He was always wonderful to me! Yet-because a child is sensitive-I can remember times when I would run into his room and suddenly know he did not want to be disturbed-when he was in meditation. He asked me many questions about what I learned in school and made me show him my school-books and pointed out India to me on the map-it was pink, I recall and told me about his country: He seemed sad that little Indian girls did not have, in general, the chance to have as good an education as we American children. . . . My grandmother was president of the Women's Hospital at home and he visited it with lively interest and asked for all the figures in infant mortality, etc.
When he began to give lectures, people offered him money for the work he hoped to do in India . He had no purse. So he used to tie it up in a handkerchief and bring it back-like a proud little boy!-pour it into my grandmother's lap to keep for him. She made him learn the different coins and to stack them up neatly and count them.
Once he said to my grandmother that he had had the greatest temptation of his life in America . She liked to tease him a bit and said, "Who is she, Swami?" He bum out laughing and said, "Oh, it is not a lady, it is Organization!" He explained how the followers of Ramakrishna had all gone out alone and when they reached a village, would just quietly sit under a tree and wait for those in trouble to come to consult them. But in the States he saw how much could be accomplished by organizing work. Yet he was doubtful about just what type of organization would be acceptable to the Indian character and he gave a great deal of thought and study how to adapt what seemed good to him in our Western world to the best advantage of his own people. . . . I spoke earlier of his delightful slight Irish brogue. . . . My grandmother used to joke him about it. But Swami said it was probably because his favorite professor was an Irish gentleman, a graduate of Trinity College , Dublin . . . .
After Swami left us, my mother was eager to do some studying along the lines of Oriental philosophy, as she realized she had not enough background to understand his teachings as fully as she wished. A Mrs. Peake held some classes in Chicago that following winter and, in the course of them, mother discovered much to her surprise that if she held a letter torn up into fine bits between her hands, she received a brief but vivid impression of the writer, both physically and mentally. When Swamiji returned to Chicago a year or so later to give lectures, mother asked him about this strange gift and he said, he had it also, and that when he was young he used to have fun doing it to show off, but Ramakrishna had rapped his knuckles and said, "Don't use this great gift except for the good of mankind! Hands that receive these impressions can also bring relief from pain. Use this gift to bring healing!"
Swamiji was such a dynamic and attractive personality that many women were quite swept away by him and made every effort by flattery to gain his interest. He was still young and, in spite of his great spirituality and his brilliance of mind, seemed to be very unworldly. This used to trouble my grandmother who feared he might be put in a false or uncomfortable position and she tried to caution him a little. Her concern touched and amused him and he patted her hand and, said, "Dear Mrs. Lyon, you dear American mother of mine, don't be afraid for me! It is true I often sleep under a banyan tree with a bowl of rice given me by a kindly peasant, but it is equally true that I also am sometimes the guest in the palace of a great Maharajah and a slave girl is appointed to wave a peacock feather fan over roe all night long! I am used to temptation and you need not fear for me!"
Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda by Cornelia Conger
- www.vivekananda.net edited by Frank Parlato Jr.