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Many Names, Many Dreams
by Lori B.

Many Names, Many Dreams

            Antonietta Vittoria Benedetti-Gonzalez was a woman of many names.

            Her parents called her Antonietta. Her sister Luciella called her Vicki. She’d been known as Toni to her first husband Johnny, as Ma to their son Frankie, as Aunt Toni to her nieces and nephews, as Nonna Toni to her grandsons Daniel and Peter, and as Great-Nonna to her great-granddaughter Gabby.

            Her second husband, Roberto, called her Ana. Her friends knew her as Ann, her former students referred to her as Miss B, and, ever since her second wedding, her hairdresser had called her Mrs. Bee-Gee.

            Antonietta Vittoria Benedetti-Gonzalez was also a woman of many dreams.

            Her father had nicknamed her Piccola Sognatrice (little dreamer). Her mother sometimes called her Testarda (stubborn one). When Antonietta had a dream in her head, she refused to give it up. Antonietta Vittoria Benedetti-Gonzalez accomplished many dreams during her long life.

            “Oh, how I dream of doing a cartwheel,” five-year-old Antonietta told her mother. That afternoon, her mother watched as her daughter stubbornly practiced doing cartwheels in the parlor. The next morning, the milkman knocked at the back door.

            “Excuse me, ma’am,” he said. “Did you know your little girl is out on the front lawn doing cartwheels?” 

            “I would like a kitty,” Antonietta told her father the next week. Before the week was up, Antonietta had searched high and low, found a litter of newborn kittens in the neighbor’s barn, and carried one of them home.

            “I wish I had a bicycle,” she said one night at bedtime. The next day, she set up a lemonade stand. By the end of summer, she’d earned enough money to buy a shiny new bike at Woolworth’s.

            Before she’d finished high school, she’d learned to do bike repair, which provided the funds she needed for college. She graduated with honors, taught school, and worked weekends at a bakery. One of the bakery’s regular customers was Johnny, a handsome man with a weakness for cupcakes. She married Johnny, studied accounting, and helped him run his plumbing business after that.

            Then she’d had Frankie, and been a den mother, cellist, literacy volunteer, and lifeguard, in that order. In recent years, she’d delved into gardening, rock climbing, and amateur astronomy.

            On her 65th birthday, she looked back on her life. It had been a good one, she thought. She missed Johnny, who’d passed away the year before, but she’d loved planning and living all those dreams. But then she started to worry. What if I’ve run out of dreams? she thought.

            She needn’t have worried. In the moment of silence that hung in the air right after she’d blown out all 65 candles on her birthday cake (66, if you counted the one for good luck), Antonietta felt a surge of new dreams bubbling up through her like a fountain. Number one on the list was jumping out of an airplane.

            One year later, after she’d parachuted out of a plane three times and broken her shoulder once, she decided enough was enough. It was time for her next new dream, maybe one that didn’t involve serious bodily injury. How about a nice relaxing vacation to celebrate being 66? Okay, she thought, Hawaii, here I come.

            After returning from a week in Oahu and another week in Maui, where she’d enjoyed the company of a handsome fellow traveler who introduced her to the joys of surfing and – shall we say – other pleasant attractions not initially on her agenda, she was on to dream number three: learning to play the piano. That wasn’t quite as exciting as dream number two had been, but it definitely was safer.

            On her 68th birthday, having practiced the piano every day for two years and having performed “Moonlight Sonata” at her high school reunion, Antonietta switched from piano to ballroom dancing, a dream she’d had since she was in her 20s. It seemed to be about midway between Hawaii and piano lessons on the excitement scale. As for its safety rating, only time would tell.

            At 70, Antonietta won first prize in a tango contest and married her dance instructor, Roberto Gonzalez. He was ten years her junior. She just loved it when he called her Pequeña Bailarina (little dancer). That took care of two more dreams – winning a dance contest and marrying a good dancer. They honeymooned in Machu Picchu (a destination she’d always wanted to visit) and tangoed up and down every one of its 1,600 steps. (Roberto stumbled over the last three.)

            For Antonietta, turning 70 meant she’d better get on with the rest of her dreams. Therefore, when she and Roberto returned from Machu Picchu, she promptly enrolled in three continuing education classes:

            – Conversational Chinese, which she studied with gusto and supplemented with Chinese cooking classes for her and Roberto.

            –Digital Photography, which prompted her to think about a return trip to Hawaii. “Because of the live volcanoes?” Roberto asked. “Something like that,” Antonietta replied. Then she changed her mind and booked a cruise for two to China instead. After all, she and Roberto had developed quite a taste for Chinese food – in her case, the spicier the better.

            – Hot Yoga, a free-with-purchase workshop offered at a salt therapy spa that sold massage oils and soaking salts. The thought of strenuous exercise in a steamy room surrounded by scented massage oils and salty bodies evoked more memories of Hawaii – memories that, frankly, caused her to swoon a bit and to buy even more salt therapy products so she could qualify for another hot yoga workshop.

            One afternoon, after a particularly steamy and sweaty yoga session at the salt therapy spa, Antonietta fainted. A doctor’s appointment confirmed her worst fears: she was a perfectly healthy 70-year-old woman who was trying to do too much at once and needed to slow down. For Antonietta, this was very bad news indeed.

            But Antonietta’s mother had not called her La Testarda for nothing. Stubbornness had gotten her this far, and she was determined that it would get her a lot farther. While resting in bed for a week following her fainting spell, Antonietta wrote her autobiography.

            When the week was up, she bounded out of her bedroom, completed manuscript in hand, and announced it was ready for publication. Not only that, but she told Roberto in no uncertain terms that she planned to live to be 100 years old, which was why she’d made a list of 30 more dreams, one for each of the next 30 years, and had pinned them to the bulletin board in the kitchen.

            The first 10 of Antonietta’s 30 dreams were much like her previous dreams. They all involved travel, cooking, or exercise in some form or another.

            The next 10 dreams were less strenuous, and included things like reading, needlepoint, and voice-overs for commercials.

            Nine of the last 10 dreams were the same dream repeated nine times: “Make it to great-granddaughter Gabby’s birthday party.” (Gabby, just three months old at the time, would later appreciate this very much.)

            The last one of Antonietta’s dreams was a secret known only to her. She hadn’t written it on the paper she’d pinned to her bulletin board. Instead, she’d typed it onto a piece of cream-colored linen stationery, folded it neatly into thirds, and placed it in an envelope. She’d sealed the envelope, written “Roberto” on the front, and scrawled “Not to be opened until after my funeral” across the flap. Then she’d handed it to Roberto and made sure he read the outside of the envelope, front and back.

            Roberto knew better than to disregard his wife’s wishes. If he were to open the envelope before Antonietta’s funeral, she would somehow find out, and she was so stubborn that it would force her to change her final dream to something else – possibly something she didn’t really want. He kissed Antonietta softly, placed the envelope in his desk drawer, the one with the lock on it, and turned the key.

            And so the envelope remained sealed for the next 30 years, and Antonietta went on with her life, finally discovering the quiet joy of living each day in the present, with Roberto. Plus, every year, she looked forward to attending Gabby’s birthday party.

            On the day of Gabby’s 30th birthday, a nurse brought Antonietta and Roberto to the party. Antonietta had just turned 100; Roberto was 90. The two of them sat at the head of the table, their eyes twinkling. They looked as if they still liked to tango occasionally.

            After everyone sang Happy Birthday, Gabby made a toast. “To Great-Nonna,” she said. “Tell us the secret to life!” 

            Antonietta looked at Roberto. “Love,” she said. Then she spread her hands out toward everyone. “And family,” she added. Then she touched her hands to her heart. “And dreams,” she whispered. There was a collective sigh around the table.

            “And being stubborn,” Roberto chimed in, taking Antonietta’s hand and squeezing it. He always liked to have the last word, when Antonietta would let him.

            One month later, Antonietta died in her sleep, and Roberto knew it was time to open the envelope. His hand was shaking, but he was determined to carry out the dream, whatever it might be. Would he have to sprinkle Ana’s ashes at the top of Mt. Everest? Or place them in a time capsule destined for a trip to the moon? Would she insist that he finally learn to do the limbo?

            Carefully, he used his letter opener to raise the envelope’s flap, and then he removed the note inside and read it. Antonietta did indeed have the last word, or words, but they were fine with him:

            My dear Roberto,

            Since you are reading this note, I have traveled on without you. I hope you will join me here someday. Meanwhile, here is my last request, dream number 30. Please ask Gabby to carry some of my ashes to her dream destination, wherever that may be. It doesn’t have to be far. I want it to be her dream. (But she might really like Oahu or Maui!)

            As for the rest of my ashes, I’d like a small stone that says:

Antonietta Vittoria Benedetti-Gonzalez

1930 - 2030

Vicki – Toni – Ma – Aunt Toni – Nonna Toni – Great-Nonna

Ana – Ann – Miss B – Mrs. Bee-Gee

Little Dreamer, Little Dancer,

Stubborn One

 

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