Maybe it’s just coincidence, but I woke up this morning, the morning of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, thinking about dreams. There is a difference between making life plans and dreams, especially in one’s later years. My father taught me about both.
My father was a high school dropout with an extraordinary talent for art. His abilities were a strange mixture. He was a carpenter, a gardener, a violinist, and a painter. He built my childhood home almost entirely by himself, room by room over time. He had a flair for growing vegetables and flowers. He and my mother played the violin together while my sister and I played a duet on the piano. His job was at a stone crushing plant, very difficult, cold, and exhausting work that caused him excruciating back pain, but his dream was to be an artist.
While I was still quite young, he signed up with the Famous Artists School, taking the correspondence course and working his way through the lessons. His talent grew. I remember how he set up his easel in an unfinished room in the house that later became his bedroom and set to work sketching on paper, then on canvas, and then using oil paints to create landscapes. Covered bridges appeared, snowy scenes with farmhouses, brooks flowing softly in winter, water wheels and buildings, summer scenes in Vermont, ocean scenes in Cape Cod. Eventually, he participated in art shows, listening carefully to comments from people he hoped would buy his art. He didn’t sell many paintings, but he never quit.
When he moved into the farmhouse where his great-grandparents once lived, he remodeled the kitchen, created a large vegetable garden, and painted a mural on the dining room wall. He set an example for me, teaching me to have a life plan but keep my dream. As a child, I wrote my stories in my room while he painted in his. He knew I wanted to teach, but writing was my love. “Do both,” he said. “You need to make money, and writing will not be enough.” He was certainly right there. Even though I have written since I was first able to hold a pen (and before that I made up stories to tell my sister at night), I never made much money at writing. I have written two books and countless poems. Teaching enabled me to have an income, but writing enabled me to pursue a dream.
Everyone should have a dream. Even though the obstacles might be great, as in my father’s case, one should never give up on them. I have long periods of drought, where I simply cannot write. Maybe it’s that grief gets in the way. Maybe it’s the fatigue or daily pain that sends me away from the computer or causes me to put down my pen and notebook. But I know if I hang in there, like my dad did, I will come back to it. I have to. Hopefully, my dream will take me into my later years until I reach a point where I may not be able to write at all. Until then, I will wake up early in the morning, like this morning, and begin to write even if no one ever reads my words. My father’s love of painting was not diminished by his lack of sales. I will treasure always my father’s lesson to me–keep your dreams alive.