No, I’m not referring to the BBC comedy show (although Mrs. Brown’s Boys is delightful). Digging through the movie selection at the library for classic films from my list, I stumbled across an old favorite that I have not watched in over a decade. National Velvet (1944), starring a young Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney, is the tale of a girl and her horse going against the odds to win a race, yes, but more importantly it’s about how a mother empowers her daughter to chase after a healthy, inspiring dream.
When I was little, I was in love with horses, so I focused pretty solely on Velvet and her beloved hoofed companion, Pie. I was joyful when they were together, I cried when Pie almost died, I cheered while they were in the race, and when they came home happy after being disqualified…I was always confused. I knew it was a happy ending, but I didn’t understand it. Watching it this time, I not only understood the beauty that is the ending, but recognized who the real MVP of this film’s plot was.
Mrs. Brown (played by Anne Revere) isn’t a flashy character, and that’s the point. Before she married the simple, loving Mr. Brown the Butcher she was the first woman to swim across the English channel. Now married, she’s the calming voice in a house full of exciting and clashing opinions and voices (her four children are deeply interested in their chosen subject from boys, canaries, horses, and insects). She’s the cool reason that helps tame rampant emotions. She does the family finances and helps her husband with the bookkeeping side of his shop. Mrs. Brown is the one who helps the family stay together and love together, looking at the big picture for all of her children, and hoping the best for them, helping as much as she can.
The big moment when all of this is laid bare for the viewer is when Velvet and Mrs. Brown are talking together in the attic. Mrs. Brown says, “We’re alike. I, too, believe that everyone should have a chance at a breathtaking piece of folly once in his life. I was twenty when they said a woman couldn’t swim the Channel. You’re twelve; you think a horse of yours can win the Grand National. Your dream has come early; but remember, Velvet, it will have to last you all the rest of your life.”
Velvet’s dream was simple and heartfelt, and within the realm of possibility. She had taken appropriate measures toward her dream before proposing it to her friends and family. Mrs. Brown, while putting a lot of money at stake, saw the value that pursuing this course would provide her daughter. Win or lose, Mrs. Brown didn’t care, as long as Velvet committed to her dream and saw it through to the end. When Velvet came home with Pie after (spoiler alert!) winning the race and becoming disqualified, Mrs. Brown is the most proud, particularly when Velvet recognizes the completion of her dream and turns down highly lucrative proposals from the press.
It’s difficult to put into words, but Mrs. Brown struck me to my core as I watched Revere move across the screen. I have often been inspired by the guiding hand of Mrs. March in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, but this seemed like something more. There was a guiding hand, yes, but an empowerment, a desire to pursue a dream no matter the outcome simply for the experience of it. Mrs. Brown has made me start thinking about my own dreams.
For so long, my goal was to become a history professor. And I mean that was a dream since high school. And you know what? My goal never changed. Not through two years of post-secondary college courses, three years (and three degrees) for my Bachelor’s, not through one year of graduate school. Then, in my second year of pursuing my Master’s, I hit a roadblock. I realized that a lot of things required of me to achieve my dream of being a professor would make me miserable. I already was miserable, and I couldn’t imagine the long career path in front of me that I had chosen, let alone the next five years of pursuing a doctorate, living in the same misery. So, I turned my back on my dream. I decided that my personal happiness and well-being was more important than blindly pursuing my goal. I finished my degree, and started aimlessly figuring out what I really want to do with my life.
And that’s when my dream was accomplished. I was offered an adjunct position at my alma mater, and I officially was a history professor for an entire semester. And you know what? I was right to give up on that dream. While I love teaching and have a very strong passion for the field of education, teaching higher education regularly is not for me. I’m not saying I won’t accept an adjunct position at some point in the future, but for now I’m going to simply enjoy being free of the stress and anxiety that such a profession and career path gave me.
My dream was accomplished, though. And maybe I’ll have a new dream to focus on sometime in the future. But Mrs. Brown was right. A breathtaking piece of folly is sometimes all we need in life to help give us perspective as to who we are and where we’re going. Funny that I never actually heard her words ’til now.