I would have been twelve, thirteen, this moment I’m remembering. My mom, Irene Klein, was back at work part time taking X-rays for an orthopedic group, my dad working long executive hours. Vince was my mother’s young work colleague and she’d him invited to have dinner with us.
My sibs and I squeezed him in at our sagging plank table on the screened porch, sticky fly traps dangling overhead. Vince was fifteen years older than me and fifteen younger than my mom, lanky with long curly hair—a smooth Italian dude from Buffalo’s west side. That was a lot of credentials in my book.
He took X-rays at the same practice as my mom. But he was full of self-doubt, he was so conflicted, he didn’t know what to do. He admitted this, right in front of us. I wasn’t used to anyone talking that way—on such a personal, confessional level.
Vince says what he really wants to do is become a doctor, like the guys they’re working for, but he still has a few courses to finish his degree and then he has to get into medical school, and there was the fact he was already twenty-nine years old, he was already married and they’re talking about having a kid, and becoming a doctor is going to take so many years. He didn’t know if he could, or should, do it.
My mother was still at the stove, the sauce simmering. She had just put the spaghetti in to boil and the steam rose in front of her face like she were a genie appearing from the pot.
She told Vince, Those years are going to pass no matter how you spend them.
That’s all she said, or all I remember, but I understood immediately what my mother meant: follow your dreams.
She had spoken without hesitation, which was no surprise to me, but I didn’t realize her expertise included matters of the heart. It’s like she knew the exact prescription for her tortured young colleague who faced a crossroads in life.
My mom didn’t say, Well, Vince, maybe take a moment to examine your goals. She didn’t say, Let’s look at the situation rationally. She didn’t say, What do you think is the realistic course of action?
She said those years are going to pass anyway.
That’s not just follow your dreams. There’s a warning in there, too: you pass through time only once, so do your best to make it count.
My mom loved our cottage in Canada—the beach and the casual change of pace. When she had an opportunity, she knew how to relax and enjoy herself. She knew how to hold a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other.
I wonder what were her dreams. She was a Niagara Falls girl and married a Buffalo boy. She died at too young an age. Did she dream bigger than being a housewife and mother of five and returning to work part time when her kids were older?
My mom never talked to me, per se, about following my dreams or being aware of time’s precious quality. But I was an observer, and an admirer, and I learned from her. I tried to follow my dreams.
But I wish she had hinted about how to handle your dreams when they shift like the tides or when they are a bit misguided. Or when dreams are shattered. I’m sure she’d have something wise to say.
As for what happened to Vince, what decision he’d made about trying for medical school—that’s a different story, unknown to me.