Innocence Leaves Us Free

2709A friend posted this photo on Facebook last night. I was mesmerized by it. My curiosity to know what the two little girls are looking at is akin to what they must have been feeling when the photograph was made. Apparently they are in a museum’s modern art gallery, but it’s not what’s hanging on the walls that is fascinating the young ones. It’s in solving the mystery of what’s behind the grate.

Unadulterated awe about the mystery of simple things is weak by the time adulthood arrives. Grownups know all too well about what works and what doesn’t, with “too well” being the operative words. In “being big” most forget how to try the impossible and how to absolutely believe in things based only on faith like the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus. We lose the majority of our curiosity and forget how to effectively waste time playing.

In a “Huffington Post” article I found suggestions of “10 Ways to Be a Kid Again”
1. Make a silly face at a stranger. Everyone likes a silly face. I bet you’ll crack someone up.
2. Eat ice cream for dinner. The fun part about being an adult is you can do what you want when you want. We are already aware of our immense responsibilities so for one night let it go.
3. Go to bed early. Some kids hate bedtime, but once they’re down they sleep like rocks. Give yourself a ridiculously early bedtime one night this week.
4. Hang out with your friends. Kids have play dates. Call a pal and actually get together and do something fun like go to the park and play Frisbee.
5. Color or draw something. Coloring brings back memories for most of us. Dig up some of your old coloring books if you can.
6. Try to say the alphabet backwards. Kids are great at crazy tasks. They try with all their might. See how fast you can say it.
7. Have a race. The next time you are walking with a friend race them to the corner. It’s fun to see other adults reacting to spontaneous racing.
8. Skip down the hallways at work. Mid-day sluggish getting to you? Skip to your meeting and you’ll probably brighten up the whole office.
9. Wear what you want. Kids come up with interesting outfits when they’re allowed by their parents to dress themselves. Come up with your own interesting outfit one day this week.
10. Try a handstand. Kids do yoga poses naturally, just for fun. Try a handstand and don’t worry about falling over.

Yes, some of the ten things are not that practical, but who cares. No grades will be given on how well done each one is. I wonder if I’ll break something trying the tenth one; a hand stand! Yet, the child in me wants to attempt it and is already badgering me “Come on Dad, can we try? Please, can we try? Please! Please! You can do it. I’ll show you how.”

I am grateful that voice of the seven-year old boy in me is no longer silent. He spent many years unnoticed and unwanted, but in my recovery, he is recovering too. I love my rediscovered whimsical childish side. Writing that makes me want to buy some finger paint. I don’t think I’ve done that since I was eight!

When we are children we seldom think of the future.
This innocence leaves us free to enjoy ourselves
as few adults can. The day we fret about the future
is the day we leave our childhood behind.
Patrick Rothfuss

Enlivened My Dream All the More

couple in fogLast night a dream passed through my night where I was with another under an umbrella in the pouring rain trying to stay dry. The drops were coming down fast and hard so we tried running and seemed to just get more wet. In keeping that little clip of make believe alive in my head this morning I began to ask does one stay drier running in the rain or walking?

It came as a surprise, but this question has received some serious attention from the scientific community here and there. Even the syndicated Straight Dope columnist Cecil Adams and the producers of the television series Mythbusters have conducted their own studies on the debate. The general finding as to whether you’d get wetter if you run or walk in the rain appears to favor walking makes you the wettest. The hypothesis is if you don’t want to get soaked any more than is strictly necessary during a rainstorm, run as fast as you can. So the correct choice was made in my dream to run to end up a little less wet.

Apparently the decision whether to run or walk in the rain has more to do with time than volume of rainfall hitting you. Simply a runner will be out of the rain in less time than the walker, which means a person running should be exposed to less overall moisture. The walker might benefit slightly from not running into the raindrops ahead, but the added time in the rain would make him wetter overall.

Many people believe that rainy days are for staying indoors and waiting for the sun to shine again. Then there are those like me who love the rain, who adore walking in it and even cherish the damp feeling one gets by walking when showers are coming down.

There is something about rainfall that is therapeutic. I’ve shared happiness with drizzle and mingled my sadness with it too. Charlie Chaplin’s famous line “I love walking in the rain because nobody can see me crying” has found me outside getting welcomedly soaked during down times more often than I care to count. If you have not tried walking when it is raining to soothe a painful day, I highly recommend it. Once you step outside there can be a feeling that nature understands your sadness. Being in the rain has a way of cleansing the body and heart, washing away tears and providing hope.

A quote from Vivian Green goes “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” I can personally attest it’s absolutely true.

The rain is not just for when I feel sad. Being soaked brings out my happy child within because I am doing something “sensible adults” rarely do; getting wet simply for the fun of it. I also find rain and fog terribly romantic and inspirational. Few others are out if I go walking in rainy weather and I have the wet beautiful world more to myself. It’s an almost mystical feeling that is ancient and solid down to the spirit of my being.

If you avoid the rain and always try to stay dry you’re missing out! I am grateful to have enjoyed it so dearly my entire life. Hearing rainfall is truly one of the most loved things I know in nature. And yes, I even dream about being in the rain like last night. It was just a little touch that enlivened my dream all the more.

And when it rains on your parade,
look up rather than down.
Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.
Gilbert K. Chesterton

How Far I Have Come

holiday-wreath-762298The Holiday Season this year has me remembering my childhood. The older I get the more good I remember and the more not so good I seem to forget. Once upon a time I spent two Christmases with my Mother and Brother in a four-room clapboard house with cardboard walls.  How far I have come yet how much I remember. The following was originally posted on August 21, 2011.

The House with Cardboard Walls

Once upon a time in the deep South there was an old four-room clapboard house that sat on the side of a paved two-lane country road.  This house had four rooms:  living room, kitchen, bedroom and storeroom.   The toilet was a small building about fifty feet out the back door.

This was an old house that had never been painted on the outside nor finished off on the inside.  The floors were uneven and sagged in places due to the foundation only being stacks of rocks underneath.  In the three rooms used as living space the walls and ceiling were covered with flattened out cardboard boxes that had been tacked to the rough-hewn wall studs.  In most cases the printed side of the cardboard was on the reverse side of what could be seen.  Here and there a few exceptions existed where printing for the products the boxes once contained was obvious.

Each of the four rooms had one window with two panels of four panes of glass.  In two of the rooms a bottom panel would still raise for air a fan pulled in during the summer.  Lack of use in the two other rooms had caused the wood of the window frames to swell into the window casings making them immoveable.

The heat for the house was supplied by a long, squatty cast iron wood stove with stove-pipe for smoke at one end that went up and out through the living room wall.   Doors were always left open into the other rooms so heat could reach there.

One modern convenience the home did have was electricity.  The “juice” powered a single light bulb in each room that hung naked on a wire from the ceiling.  The light was turned on and off by a string that hung down from a switch on the light socket.  There was one wall outlet per room but there was little to plug into them except a B&W TV in the living room and tree lights at Christmas.   Sometimes in the winter when it got really cold the electric stove oven in the kitchen would be turned on and the door left open to add extra heat to the little old house.

The other modern comfort that had been added was running water that came from a well a few hundred yards away that was shared with two other houses.  Water was available only at the sink in the kitchen and there was very little water pressure.  What came out of the faucet was actually more like a good-sized trickle than a stream.  There was no hot water heater.

One bathed in this house by heating water on the stove then pouring it into an aluminum wash basin with a flat bottom and rounded-up sides with a half-inch lip around the top.  With small dents all over from use over a long period of time, the basin was about eighteen inches across and five inches deep in the middle.  With a bar of soap and a bath clothe one washed up.  In the winter this was usually done by the wood store which also served to heat the water in cold months.

There were no door locks on the front and back door.  What kept each door shut was a rough “old-timey” door  latch made of unfinished bare wood with carving marks still clear on them from their making decades before. From the inside you lifted the latch from its catch to open the door.  On the outside a string was threaded through a hole in the door that one pulled to lift the latch on the inside.  A wooden spool that sewing thread had come on was nailed to the outside as a handle to pull the door shut.

This old house was roofed with tin which caused the eves of the roof to echo with any sound that hit it. Especially noticeable was when it rained and the drops pelted the tin making a relaxing and gentle rumble.  One accustomed to the sound was eased into sleep by its calming effect.

The front of the house had a wood porch onto which the front door opened and the living room and bedroom window looked out upon.  I know a story about how two boys, seven and five years old, got into trouble from being out on that porch.  Their mother left very early weekdays for her job in a factory making baby clothes.  The boys were awakened just as she was about to leave for work and were left to get up, get ready for school, make breakfast for themselves and catch the school bus.  The outhouse was way out back and with their Mother gone; the boys got out of bed and avoided the journey out back.  Instead the two boys proceeded out to the front porch and relieved their bladders off the side of it.

One day a car drove by as the boys were peeing off the porch standing there in their “tidy-whities” and undershirts they slept in.  What they were doing seemed so normal to them they kept doing what they were doing and waved to the passer-by they knew.  Their Mother was NOT happy about what the boys had been doing when she was told later by the neighbor driving by who thought what the boys were doing was cute.

How do I know all this?  I lived in this house with my Brother and my Mother for close to two years.  Vivid in my memory is how much trouble we got into for using the front porch as our bathroom.  That old house has been my reference point for all places I have lived in since all were an improvement.  However, I do have vivid gratefulness to that ancient house that still stands today although no one has lived there in a long, long while.  For a time, the old house with cardboard walls kept us dry and warm.  As humble as it was, that place sheltered us from the world and kept us safe.  For what once was a great embarrassment I now find sweet memories and much gratitude.

Home is home, be it ever so humble.


Regret Has Lived Long Enough

Very few memories of when I was a toddler stuck, however, there is one that has remained constant since the fall after my second birthday. Mom, Dad and I were visiting my Grandfather (my father’s father) way down in the country in a rural Clay County, Alabama community called Shiloh.

My memory is restricted to a few animated night images in that old clapboard house, but what I remember is vivid. Having never slept in a house at night that had no electricity I was enthralled by the yellow glow of room from kerosene lamps and a bright fire burning in the fireplace. Both threw large shadows on the walls that seem to dance, especially when anyone moved around the room.

To this day I can tell you how the furniture was arranged in the room, what tables the lamps where on, where chairs were, which wall the door to the outside was located and even where the kitchen was. A hot coal popped out of the fireplace and I learned the hard way not to pick things like that. I guess I burned my finger a little, but only remember picking it up and not any pain from the experience.

Being there felt magical, as if I had entered some kingdom like I saw a few years later in “The Seven Dwarf’s” house in the woods. It never occurred until I was much older how poor the old man who lived in the little run down “shack” was.

While my Dad’s Father was grumpy a lot of the time, later he read the Bible to me sometimes in his room at night when I was five and six years old when he lived with us. I remember him as a quirky man who saved chicken feathers for some reason I never knew and preferred newspaper soaked in water to toilet paper. I can close my eyes even now and remember him walking through the back yard headed to the outhouse with an old pot under his arm, filled with strips of newspaper floating in warm water. Guess I shouldn’t knock it since I’ve never tried it.

We called my grandfather “Pawpaw”.  Working he never amounted to much although he tried one money-making scheme after another. He tried selling books door to door unsuccessfully and tried to farm but was no good at it. He was in the army in World War I but spent his time in France in the hospital with dysentery. Essentially Pawpaw lived his adult life on a small pension from his military service and whatever he could scratch up buying and selling things. Looking back now I realize he was a sad man whose wife left him with two small boys (my father and uncle) who he raised. He made a mess of being a father, but I am certain he did the best he could.

The old man touches my heart to this day because of a lie he told in love each year around Christmas time. There were a lot of years growing I had no contact with my Father, but Pawpaw would just show up around holidays with gifts for my brother and I he said where from my Dad. I knew he had bought them because they were the sort of useful things a man of his depression generation might buy: handkerchiefs, a brush and comb set, a manicure set, notebook paper, pencils and such. I was grateful he remembered us, even if my father didn’t.

Pawpaw’s full name was Lovette Egbert Browning, born November 22, 1886 and died July 12, 1973. He was my grandfather and I will always remember him as a well-intended man who held my brother and I deep in his heart. He died when I was nineteen. I used the excuse that I lived a thousand miles away in Colorado and had almost no money as a reason not to go home for his funeral. That regret has lived long enough within. I am grateful to share it and release it on this page today.

We must all suffer from one of two pains:
the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.
The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.
Jim Rohn

A Gift You Give Yourself

I am mostly me, but bits of others people are mixed in. For some habits and tendencies I know exactly who I intentionally copied them from. Then there are those I picked things up from simply being around others; some good, some not.

What did I get from my Father? I look a lot like him and stand sometimes like he often did. He was a womanizer and with the best of intentions to be otherwise, I found myself in adult life following in his steps to a point. However, how he made a mess of his life went far deeper.  In his late 40’s and 50’s came a slow suicide with alcohol and hard drugs. The addictions were picked up trying to be “cool” with 20-something women he liked to have around. He was attracted to truly “bad girls” who were a perfect fit his addictions. Dad got sober and straight the last year and a half of his life, but I never spoke to him during that time. He died at an Alcohol Anonymous meeting from a heart attack.  I don’t hold anything against my Father any more. I actually feel sorry for him.

Then there is my Mother who taught me how to be truly selfish simply from watching her behavior. She was eighteen when I was born and not even 21 when my brother came along. By twenty-five my Father got another woman pregnant and left to be with her. Mom went kind of crazy after that and became highly self-absorbed. She was attractive and “easy” with a steady flow of men. From her antics I saw and heard way more about sex than any 8-year-old kid should be exposed to. She was completely oblivious to how she was screwing up her children. Like pets one might keep, she saw that we didn’t go hungry, had a dry place to sleep and went to school. Past that my Brother and I took care of each other but grew up starved for parental affection. My Mother is still alive but to my knowledge has never admitted any regrets. I have not spoken to her in 20 years and it’s a toss-up if I ever will. I pity my Mother and the mess she made of her life, but forgave her a long time ago (mostly anyway).

Forgiving our parents is a core task of adulthood, and one of the most crucial kinds of forgiveness. We see our parents in our mates, in our friends, in our bosses, even in our children. When we’ve felt rejected by a parent and have remained in that state, we will inevitably feel rejected by these important others as well.

The sins of parents are among the most difficult to forgive. We expect the world of them, and we do not wish to lower our expectations. Decade after decade, we hold out the hope, often unconsciously, that they will finally do right by us. We want them to own up to all their misdeeds, to apologize, to make heartfelt pleas for our forgiveness.

Getting to a forgiving place, finding the forgiving self inside us, is a long and complicated journey. We have to be ready to forgive. We have to want to forgive. The deeper the wound, the more difficult the process—which makes forgiving parents especially hard. But when we get there, the forgiveness we achieve will be a forgiveness worth having. From the May 2003 issue of “O”, the Oprah Magazine

For my own sanity, I forgave both my parents long ago. I forgave my Father for abandoning us and my Mother for not even trying to protecting my Brother and I from the evil stepfather she brought into our lives. I am grateful to have found some peace and light within memories that once were filled with darkness and fear.

Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.
Suzanne Somers

Five and Five

Remembering how good early childhood was brings fond memories. While there was much chaos and heartache to come, those were peaceful times that preceded. Birth to seven years old is recalled as a carefree and happy time. My mind and spirit were not yet crowded with remembrances of how difficult and painful life can be could be. Back as a small child most of my focus was on playing, eating and sleeping. What a life! I am grateful for the sweet and dear memories from when I “was little”.  Here’s five (sayings) and five (images) that I hope serve as meaningful memory joggers for you as I found them to be.

I want to be in fifth grade again. Now, that is a deep dark secret, almost as big as the other one. Fifth grade was easy — old enough to play outside without Mom, too young to go off the block. The perfect leash length. Laurie Halse Anderson

…when you’re a kid, everyone, all the world, encourages you to follow your dreams. But when you’re older, somehow they act offended if you even try. Ethan Hawke

I am convinced that most people do not grow up…We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think what we do is mostly grow old. We carry accumulation of years in our bodies, and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are innocent and shy as magnolias. Maya Angelou

Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up. C.S. Lewis

I have found the best way to give advice to your children
is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.
Harry S. Truman

Third Most Popular

A lot has changed in the U.S. in a hundred years and what names babies are given is no exception. In 1911, the most popular names given to females were Mary, Helen, Margaret, Dorothy and Ruth. One hundred later in 2011 little girls were most often named Sophia, Isabella, Emma, Olivia and Ava. Elizabeth is the only first-name in the top 20 for both 1911 (7th) and 2011 (11th).

For boys born in 1911, the top five given names were John, William, James, George and Robert. Fast forward a hundred years and only one name stays in the top five; William joined by Jacob, Mason, Jayden and Noah. An honorable mention is my first name, James which was the third most popular name for baby boys in 1911. A hundred years later in 2011 it was 17th.  Here’s the full list from the source article on

If you think unusual names like Beyone, Posh and Myleene are unique only to modern times, you’d be mistaken.  Family history site analysed 36 million records in the 1911 Census and came up with the 10 most peculiar names given children in the U.K. in 1911: Love Child, Danger, Lucky, Hero, Love, Lovely, Nice, Pretty, Secret and Danger. Thank you Mom and Dad for not hanging something unusual like that on me that I would have had to explain every day of my life!

James was my father’s name, although he shortened it to “Jim” leaving me an identity independent of him. I like my name and am grateful to be ‘James’ in a long line of men who have been called that.

I have known a German Prince
with more titles than subjects,
and a Spanish nobleman
with more names than shirts.
Oliver Goldsmith

Through the Eyes of a Child

For children every thing is new. If you watch a toddler move through a room, their eyes are huge as they take it all in. They have no expectation – just a wonderment and joy that comes from exploring their universe.

As we get older, most of us lose that joy and wonderment. We move into autopilot, and become focused on the future and the past – the present is something to move through. It’s a gateway toward reaching goals.

When we lose our wonderment for the present, we begin to say things like, “I will be happy when…” or “I will be satisfied when…” Instead of “I am happy.” “I am satisfied.”

Happiness comes from seeing the world as it exists now; finding happiness in the moment, in the present. It’s a conscious act of de-programming our autopilot and becoming truly aware of where we are in space and time, to truly connect with our inner joy and gratitude.

Once way to do this is spend an hour in nature walking. With every step feel the muscles in your legs move to propel you forward. Embrace the ground underneath supporting you. Feel the sun warming you, the wind caressing your body. Become the bird that flutters past or the ant that scurries along the trail. As you open yourself up and become aware of your surroundings, taking in all the small details, you will find your body slows down. Calmness will emerge, as will a sense of joy and wonderment. Even if only for a few moments, you will once again see with the eyes of a child. Paige Oxlaj 

Being in a different place wakes me up to my surroundings.  Out of my home routine while visiting my son in Colorado I am much more aware of the mountains, the trees, even the wind.  I am grateful for this heightened awareness and know arriving home I will be a little more appreciative of my day to day environment.  Life is good.

Through the eyes of a child
the world is full of wonder.
Through the eyes of a child
it’s sunshine, rain or thunder.
Through the eyes of a child
life’s just an endless game.
Through the eyes of a child
there’s only adults to blame.
Through the eyes of a child
it’s schooldays and fun days.
Through the eyes of a child
it’s fascinating always.
Through the eyes of a child
it’s beach, buckets and sand.
Through the eyes of a child
life’s so easy to understand.
Now what about us – you and me?
Where’s our eyes of a child?
From a post by “genegem”

A Multi-Colored Continuum

At four years old I had all the world I wanted: Davy Crockett gloves with fringe, a tricycle, parents I still thought were cool and grandparents who fussed over their oldest grand boy. The world was a giant mystery that I was busy discovering. Each morning I woke up liking life.

With no kindergarten where I grew up, the day I was thrust into first grade was scary. I didn’t want to be there. Quiet and withdrawn, in time I found a good friend that got me through. The buddy was school that came easy. I liked succeeding at something and being appreciated for it.

Before I knew it the age of ten rolled around. This was the year life began to bring real disappointment and even fear as a “nasty stepfather” came into my life. I learned to dislike and even hate through how he treated my brother and I. The lesson was some people truly are evil.

It was a Sunday afternoon and I was thirteen when something never felt before came over me. A magnetic attraction toward a girl was sparkling new and near startling, but felt deliciously daring. I didn’t understand what was going on but I liked what I was feeling during that sweet and innocent afternoon.

In what felt like only a month, two more years passed and almost abruptly I was sixteen years old, had a car (a blue VW) and was ‘in love’ for the first time. I witnessed an amazing sense of being vibrantly alive before the coin flipped to introduce me to romantic heartbreak for the first time six months later.

The world began to go crazy. I was kicked out of home for reasons I don’t understand even today. I was a good kid, a Boy Scout and an honor student but the “evil pretend father” feared me after I stood up to him the first time. He took my car and pushed me out of the house.  Walking down the street with a suitcase and enough money for a motel and food for two days was one of the most fearful moments I’ve ever experienced.

The words I spoke in the phone booth were “I have no place to go. Can I come live with you?”. On the other end of the line was my birth father who was near a complete stranger.  I had seen him only twice since I was seven years old. From two hundred miles away came the word “yes” and one of the best years of my growing up began; my senior year of high school.

Looking back at the plethora of emotions touching me for the first time, my memory is clear of how bewildering life was during those formative years. At the same time I felt vibrantly alive during the ups and downs. Living was filled with near constant firsts and fresh experiences and quite possibly the deepest range of joy and unhappiness ever experienced. Each and every one was a tile in the mosaic of the person I am today.

In recent years the view has arrived of seeing life as a multi-colored continuum instead of separate individual experiences. Each and every event and occurrence are connected. Like a “draw by numbers” portrait those first eighteen years shaped the outline of who I became and am today. I am grateful to be able to look back now and realize how important ALL those experiences were.

I believe that everything happens for a reason.
People change so that you can learn to let go,
things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right,
you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself,
and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.
Marilyn Monroe