My For a dreamer lives forever. And a toiler dies in a day. John Boyle O Reilly
My mother used to say this to me. I think she considered it her motto. But I never knew what she dreamed of. I wish I had asked, I wonder what she would have told me. Or did it have more to do with me? I think that may have been the case. Like many of her generation, she was schooled in poetry. To her dying day, she quoted whole poems, The Charge of the Light Brigade being a favorite, most anything by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Carl Sandburg. We lived on a river and at certain times of the year fog formed a wall between the banks. I never look out onto fog now that I don’t see a grey cat, tail curled around its feet, floating in the mist.
Looking back on the dreamer quote through the space and wisdom of time, I think it was her way of encouraging me. I was a late child, born nine years after my only sibling. My parents well into middle age at the time and unsure of what they needed to do about this tiny bundle of energy born at a time when they thought life would be slowing and settling. Growing up in a neighborhood where all the kids were older and male, it soon became apparent that the lone girl child needed some serious coping skills. I developed them quickly. I became an over-achieving daredevil of a child. Nothing was too hard or too dangerous.
Add an overactive imagination, and learning to read at the tender age of two into the mix, and you can see I had a setup for adventure. We built snow forts, igloos, and practiced skiing down snow packed stairs. We recreated entire battles in our snowy fields. We’d heard of the Tenth Mountain Division and although we had little knowledge of the men who served with them, we made up battles and stories for our play forts.
Then came Mark Twain. What better books for children growing up along a river. We lashed fallen branches together built rafts, all of which died watery deaths. None of us did though, I can remember being rescued by the tugboat captain once. Given the river we played in, I’m surprised we don’t glow in the dark! We didn’t just read Huckleberry Finn we reenacted it. We paid homage to Tarzan by building platforms in trees and swinging out over the river on ropes. My parents took much of this in stride. They did draw the line when I jumped out of the second story window. I landed unbroken and unfazed, rescued the wagon train from Billy the Kid and had heck to pay when I knocked on my own front door to be let back into my house.
I met Jo March about the same time most of my friends were losing interest in playacting. The age difference between my playmates and me became an insurmountable chasm. My endless imagination turned inward and I began writing stories. School always came easy. I excelled at the work, math, science and English all flowed effortlessly. My teachers were thrilled, but they all had one negative comment. She’s a dreamer, they would write in my report card. My parents attended conferences where teachers expressed frustration that once I understood something, I lost interest in the rest of the class and immersed myself in writing stories. Many of which I was forced to read aloud as punishment. One or two paragraph flights of fancy that often drew applause from my classmates.
My parents would come home from these meetings at a loss as to how to discipline me. My mother would say, “She’s a dreamer, Bill, and a dreamer lives forever, a toiler but a day.” I’m still a dreamer. Now my dreams take the form of books and short stories. Some of them sell, some do not, but they are all a part of me. Some, like this post, are rooted in the child.
How about you? Are you a dreamer? Do you still follow your dreams?