Updated: Mar 28
There were only four questions and it seemed I could answer them quite easily: What were your dreams when you were younger? What did you imagine your life would be like? Did you achieve your dreams? Do you still have dreams you want to achieve?
My beautiful 16-year-old granddaughter Skyler Marie, an emotionally eloquent writer, had been working on her autobiography for weeks for an 11th grade English class project and these questions were assigned as part of the final chapter, the interviews with her parents and grandparents.
Over the years my dreams often shifted, frequently influenced by TV, books, movies, a favorite teacher, or predicated by complex situations or simple, consequential choices. Silently carried by ambivalent, amorphous currents, they expanded, collapsed, disappeared, and reappeared, occasionally day by day or decade by decade.
A mosaic of multiple choices, my dreams were ultimately influenced by the rotary-dial-wheel-of-fortune-lady-luck style selection process. I couldn’t be sure if I followed my dreams or if my dreams followed me.
Stapled together with common themes, these big and little dreams, mostly extensions of the activities I loved or excelled at as a child, were an amalgam of hopscotch and happenstance, modified by ability, family issues, societal circumstances - and height requirements.
From my earliest recollections, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
I wanted to be a Mouseketeer on the Mickey Mouse Show, like Annette Funicello, and perform on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour and American Bandstand. I wanted to wear a tiara and be Miss America and I wanted to be a Rockette, a mother, and a teacher.
I wanted to read every book in the library, including the Encyclopedia Britannica, become a writer, and see the WORLD – go to exotic places – or outer space - go on safari and see the elephants in Africa and go on archeological digs in Egypt like the ones I read about in Ingenue or Seventeen Magazine.
I wanted to wear a sparkly skating skirt and perform in the Ice Capades, win an Academy Award, and have hair and clothes like Cher. I wanted to be an actress like Marlo Thomas, and have my own TV show, like Oprah. I wanted to be discovered and be in the MOVIES - but most of all, I wanted to be famous.
I found myself thinking not only about Skyler's questions and my responses, but about the circumstances that shaped the template for those dreams. Skyler’s four questions required multiple follow up queries and I found myself wondering about some other questions.
What people, places and events influenced my dreams? What factors determined if my dreams were ultimately attainable? How were my dreams altered by the limitations of growing up as a woman in the 50s and 60s? What circumstances and life style issues contribute to my dreams even now?
I needed a longer audio file ….
When younger, creating my dreams seemed clearly defined, like completing a connect-the-dots puzzle; I was confident that once I put my pencil on the first dot and followed the logical predetermined sequence, an image would appear. Simple.
But it wasn't that simple...
I was two and a half inches too short to be a Rockette (the height requirement is still 5'6" to 5'10") and there were hundreds of others who danced better than I did. While growing up, there were complicated issues in my family that my required my attention. Traveling was not a possibilty; I had anxiety and was afraid to fly.
As a young woman growing up in the 50s and 60, many of my dreams were pre-formatted, incongruous, and as absurd as digital presets on a transistor radio. Incomprehensible.
During my 11th grade guidance counseling conference at Carle Place High School, Mr. Titan reviewed my post-high school choices, placed his clasped hands on his desk, and leaned in. He asked me four questions: "Do you want to be a nurse? A teacher? A secretary? Or get married and have children?"
Four questions. And only four choices...
Skyler knows there were no computers or cell phones then, but does she know there were not equal opportunities for women? Women's roles were clearly defined and women’s rights were very limited.
Women were expected to stay home and raise children. There were no daycare centers or nursery schools. Until 1978, it was legal to fire someone who was pregnant. I concealed my pregnancy to avoid being fired.
Until 1974, it was legal to deny a woman the right to have a credit card in her own name, or the right to borrow money or to get a mortgage without having her husband or another man co-sign the loan. Most Ivy League colleges, including Harvard, Yale and Princeton, did not accept female students. Participation for women in the world of sports was limited.
According to my Girl Scout manual (still on my bookshelf), Girl Scouts prepared for their roles as service providers, homemakers, mothers or teachers by swearing an Oath, "To help other people at all times."
The Girl Scout manual provides examples of women we could emulate: Florence Nightingale ("who knew the meaning of service and worked hard to relieve the suffering of soldiers"), Amelia Earhart ("who often made her own clothes and was interested in aviation"), Louisa Alcott ("who was calm and cheerful and dropped the pen for the needle, dishcloth and broom"), and Sacajawea ("an interpreter who guided and nursed those on the Lewis and Clark expedition").
It was a very short list...
Trying to figure out my future was like pouring a glass of milk into a tall glass…without the glass. Or the pitcher. A shapeless, uncontained blob without definition, parameters or possibilities.
Skyler’s questions weren’t simple at all. My dreams demanded a context. It was complicated...
Not all of my dreams came true, but many did. I got married and had children, my greatest blessing. I’ve worked as a teacher and a writer and have danced and performed throughout my life. I even relished 15 seconds of fame as the "Hoola-Hoop Champion of Nassau County" circa 1960. Although I haven't been on safari or an archaeological dig, I’ve traveled widely in Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, Oman, and France.
Despite the most improbable circumstances, in 1994, in my 40s I hosted a weekly TV talk show. And recently, beyond my wildest dreams, during retirement I began background acting for television shows and Netflix films.
Background acting is like being a table with an appetite; you're part of the set. It's not for everyone; tedious and repetitious, early calls, middle of the night shoots spliced with intermittent food and bathroom breaks, hours in hair and make-up, and scores of scenes left on the cutting room floor, but for me, it's been heaven on earth! I’ve only appeared briefly as a pedestrian, restaurant patron or theater-goer, but I’ve finally been in the MOVIES!
I was glad to share my journey with Skyler, and I'm looking forward to watching her journey begin. Skyler will have her own set of challenges to circumvent as she dreams some very big dreams of her own. You can see her photo and read excerpts of her emotionally eloquent autobiography here: Skyler Says
I am grateful and honored to be part of her project.