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The Usefulness of Dreaming

August 10, 2012

My grandfather used to say his best time in school was spent staring out the windows, which he said were tall like doors and thrown open to passing clouds and the alluring gossip of birds. Having placed first in the county, my grandfather quit school at 8th grade to support his widowed mother by working as a teller at the bank, and then as a soldier. A few houses over, his future wife, my grandmother-to-be was selling scissors door to door to buy medicine for her mother, who had been supporting the family by taking in mending and ironing after her husband died, until — in the melodramatic fashion of the time — she too became ill and died.  At sixteen, my grandmother went to work for a milliner to support herself and her sister, and took part of her pay in hats. My grandmother was a soprano and when she wasn’t stitching hats, sometimes she sang as a soloist in a cathedral. One would think neither my grandfather nor my grandmother would have much time for dreaming. But still they dreamt. I do not mean the kind of dreaming one does at night, but the kind that happens in the day, in the absence or even in the presence of other kinds of noise, like teachers writing on the board and whirling around to see who is and isn’t listening, or hat-makers telling you to work faster:  the kind of dreaming that blurs the sound of their speaking, that walks over your consciousness with silky feet, murmurs to you like a siren, and winds you up like a top. I mean the kind that makes you believe you might go places such as you have heard about in books, and see wonders that shall not be named, at least not here, the kind that happens as you are stitching a cluster of violets onto a hat and your hand is moving so fast you may prick yourself.  One glorious thing after another lays itself down like a path and you walk along until you run out of thread. That is the point of dreaming. Then there comes a moment if one is living in this world that dreaming closes up shop and gives way to doing something, anything, that can be named without yearning. This is what is usually called life, is sometimes referred to as work, and is to play what east is to west. Much of it is wonderful, and most of it is forgotten. After seventy years of bending to the necessity of work and circumstance, what my grandfather remembered acutely and without regret were the moments of abandon, of looking out the window and watching the birds.

After eighty years of housekeeping, what my grandmother remembered was hitting D over high C in the vaulted church, and how it felt to make a hat with a clutch of violets, a bird of paradise and a cluster of grapes, and how its very heaviness made her feel lighter than air, walking down the street.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Christina root permalink
    August 11, 2012 3:22 am

    Creative thinking.
    Couldn’t survive without it .
    🙂

  2. Michele permalink*
    August 11, 2012 1:07 pm

    You are the paragon! xoxo

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