A Final Word – GO!
By Mary Tolaro-Noyes
My life is a green pasture, bordered by a wooden fence. Each section represents one of my fears; these fears circumscribe my existence. I regularly visit the perimeter, testing my limits. Each fear that I accept makes my world a bit smaller. Once in awhile, I gather my strength, jump the rails, and run free into a land that beckons me. These are the times I feel most alive. You may think of the stories in this book as of tales of daring. But if you met the women who told them, you’d see that they are a lot like you. If there is one thing they would all want you to know, it is this – “You’ll be fine.”
If I could say a final word, it would be: Go.
From: A JOURNEY OF ONE’S OWN
Years ago when I considered the possibilities of life after raising the kids, I happened to read A Journey of One’s Own, a book that made me stop and ponder “Why not?” I had dreamed since university days of taking off and traveling alone but, when life offered me the possibility, I harbored too many doubts. Fear held me back, fear of “jumping the fence” and roaming freely beyond the confines that had circumscribed my existence. In fact, I had often jumped fences before, as we all do negotiating the vagaries of life.
I had long ago figured out unconsciously how to just “Go!”
As a child I had normal fears, healthy ones, sometimes inherited from the adults in my life, and uncalled for ones too, my own and those of my elders. However, I was always the daughter who had her eyes focused on the world “over there,” curious and yearning for the chance to “check things out.” I grew up in a small town in southern Vermont, the perfect place to run free in the mountains and fields, climb fences and trees and take walks by myself. My father and God did frighten me, in that order. I really wanted to please them and avoid their disapproval, but the urge to explore outside the boundaries of my small town world flourished. At age seven, I remember taking a walk with my best friend Anne Marie. We left Saint Charles School, went down Cherry Hill to the middle of town, across the Vilas Bridge, over the Connecticut River, to my Grandma’s house, without permission, of course. The escapade rattled the adults’ nerves but oh my, Grandma’s warm, wonderful hug silenced the cautions and reprimands into oblivion.
I adored going to Boston to visit Aunt Mary and decided early on that I was a city girl: the hustle and bustle of traffic and people; the tree-lined neighborhoods with local grocery stores and shops; the Italian pastries and bread that Uncle Joe brought home from the panificio in the North End; and Aunt Fran, the nurse who played classical music on the piano like an angel and traveled to England on a ship. I couldn’t wait to grow up – and GO!
We moved to the suburbs outside Cincinnati when I was twelve and my world expanded. My fear was always the “no” my father automatically (it seemed) answered when I asked permission to do the normal things that kids do, like go to a “record hop” and perhaps even dance with a boy. He was always slow to relent, but thanks to my mother’s intervention, he sometimes did. His mother, my beloved Grandma Maria Calogera, would admonish me to try and understand him as she dried my tears. My father’s “no,” she explained, came from his love for me. It was only later as a parent that I understood her meaning.
Later I ran off with my love Tom to Los Angeles from the suburbs of Detroit, where the family had moved, in spite of my father’s fears and warnings. By that time I already had my university degree and teaching certificate – and a teaching position waiting for me. I was not afraid, just excited and happy. In retrospect, my running free past the boundaries was actually quite responsible and, in spite of the problems, I did thrive.
My own real fears of “jumping the fence” actually grew out of motherhood and feeling responsible for the lives of my children. I could finally understand my father. When our older son Jim was seven and asked permission to ride his bicycle in the street like the other kids in the neighborhood, I wanted to say “no” because I was afraid for him. He had no fear, just enthusiasm for “jumping the fence” – and he was absolutely capable. I pronounced the most difficult “yes” of my life. He did fine, and I did too.
When the time came for me to face a new, updated version of life, the fear of “jumping the fence” took hold and the justifications for “no” multiplied: leaving my husband and children, spending money, expecting the disapproval of everyone, putting “my” life on hold. I had found my paternal grandparents’ families in Sicily, met them, and realized I needed to improve my Italian considerably in order to communicate. I could finally go off and chase my dream in Italy, if only I had the courage. Reading A Journey of One’s Own helped me realize that yes, the other considerations were relevant, but fear of what lay outside the boundaries of my experience held me back.
I left by myself for Italy for two months to study Italian in Bologna and experienced loneliness and apprehension, made mistakes, and second-guessed my choice. Most of all I felt happy though, excited, challenged – and alive. My book Bologna Reflections: An Uncommon Guide evolved from that journey, and the rest of my life too. And I did manage to have a few memorable conversations with Zio Rocco, my grandmother’s brother, before he died.
In the end, I had taken a deep breath, “jumped the fence,” and did not look back. My husband Tom helped ease that jump and, while a copy of the author’s “Final Word” always travels with me in my pocket, Tom’s lucky farewell dispatch “Don’t forget to hold the map the right way!” keeps my destination in focus.
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Page Author: Mary Tolaro Noyes
Last update: 10-Feb-2019