To achieve, in most cases, this place of ingenuousness, one must have a reference point. A place in time which we can look back on and emulate. We must forget about the outer, and often corrupted, memory and focus on the way we felt, and how we thought at that place in our time. We may not be able to relive our lives, but we can retrace our tracks. It is here we can find our lost innocence.
To be as a child, one must see without judgment. All those conditioned and learned responses, built upon in our lifetime, must be abandoned to less discerning ways. It is a simple enough concept, but very difficult to achieve. To see the world through innocent eyes, and think of God in elementary terms, we must let go of our social and spiritual training and allow ourselves to revert, in a sense, to be "un-born again". We must simplify our thoughts and purge our pre-conceived notions. We must escape from the bias placed upon us through theory, and speculation, ever clearing our sense of reality to a baser interpretation. We must be childlike in our clarity.
“In brightest day, in blackest night,No evil shall escape my sight
Let those who worship evil's might,
Beware my power
Green Lantern's light!"
(The Green Lantern Oath, DC Comics)
The dime was burning a hole in my pocket all the way to the Dominion store. At 6 years old, even I had figured out the value, and significance, of cold hard cash. As my Mother placed my sister in a grocery cart, feet dangling to the pull of gravity, I stood transfixed, staring at the toy dispenser located at the entrance of the store. This was no mere collection of gum and candy, rather it stood out from all the other temptations. I had seen it so many times and it seemed to call to me. Ten cents was a lot of money way back when, at least to a 6 year old in 1971. Needless to say, I was hypnotized.Each dispenser held its own treasure. Some promised gumballs, for one cent apiece. Others offered peanuts, or sweet-tarts, or even little pretty things like necklaces or bracelets. Although joined to each other in metal, my focus of attention held its own place. The logos of Batman, Superman and the Flash captured my eye and my imagination. As my Mother called to me, I dropped my coin in the slot and turned the handle. The dime disappeared and a clink activated a thrill within me. As my new found pleasure dropped into my possession, I lifted the silver cover and discovered pure joy.
Encased in a clear plastic ball, the Green Lantern's ring popped into my hand, propelled to me through the squeezing of the egg-like shape at the middle. The seam ruptured forth this coolest of things, endowing me with a sense I had not held since I first discovered superheroes some time before. I was bewildered, taking it in my left, then placing it on my right hand's widow finger. Suddenly, I was empowered, fearless and charged with protecting this realm from the darkness of the universe. I turned, stuffed the two halves of the ball in my pocket, and ran off until I caught up to my Mother.
The store became a battleground. Every turn, every display another chance to strike against the forces of evil. I zapped the butcher, then some old lady, all the while banishing these evildoers back from whence they had come. I was transformed and so was my world. I stopped just being some kid and started being a hero. Like Spiderman, Samson, and even Jesus, I now possessed a tool to make me worthy of a place beside them. I was lost in the feel of it, pulled to the play of it and made for the thrill of it.
When the shopping was done and the store safe from monsters, my Father picked us up and we headed for home. Unlike my fellow passengers, I boarded my starship, powered by my ring, and sped through the galaxy on a quest to bring freedom to all people. I encountered meteors and spaceships, each one housing some form of doom or another. I raged against villainy, ever diligent of the lessons other heroes had taught me. Most important, one must never forget that absolute power, corrupts absolutely. When I heard these words from one of my Spiderman comics it failed to affect me, but now I knew I must always be careful not to misuse my newly found skill. Soon enough, we had all landed home, safe and sound.
For weeks, that ring possessed me. At school, in church, I was constantly floating above it all, ever on guard against any threat or their minions. The ring became my most prized belonging. I clung to it as if it were gold or diamonds. It quickly became my most favourite thing ever. It was just a plastic ring, solid green through the body and the plate. The Green Lantern's insignia was stamped in darker green and set in a white border on the ring surface. I loved that ring more than anything. Almost every night I would place it back in its home, that clear plastic thingy it came with. Many times I just wore it to bed.
The month I had that silly ring was one of adventure and freedom for me. It did not matter if it really was, or was not, the Green Lantern weapon. I believed it was. At the time, that was all that mattered. Such a simple thing, yet so much joy from it. With blind obedience, I followed my imagination and travelled to places I have yet to return to. I witnessed galactic conflict and sided myself against evil. All the wonders that appeared in spite of that ring being only a ring.
I remember leaving it on the windowsill in my bedroom. I took my bath, as instructed, and returned to the room, unaware of my fate. I searched everywhere for it. All over the house and throughout the car. I convinced myself it had fallen from the window and tore apart every corner of the backyard. No one had seen it. No one knew where it was. It just disappeared and was nowhere to be found.
"A million tomorrows shall all pass away‘Ere I forget all the joy that is mine, today."
(Today, John Denver 1975)
I loved my Great-Grandfather Guiseppi. He meant the world to me when I was a boy. He was my Mother's first, but I took him as my own. He is still with me in my heart, in my mind and in my writing. Although our time together was brief, the moments that I shared with him are etched into my being. Some of the greatest experiences from my childhood rest between he and I. He calls to me from the shadows of my past and lingers as if a ghost to my senses. Almost forty years later and I still miss him so.Of all the children, from all our family, I knew I was his favourite. Our camaraderie showed in our time together. A dozen children could be running around his simple home, and large property, but we could still be found sitting with each other, oblivious to the world around us. We would play checkers and he would try to teach me the complexity of the game of chess. He would pretend to drink Kool-Aid, but I knew from the smell that scotch was his flavour. On occasion, he would dip his finger in his chipped coffee cup, then share a taste in a bitter way. Every time I smell that odour, I can see him in his white wife-beater, hand-rolled cigarette in between his brown stained fingers, talking to me about
His small, shack-like house was tiny compared to the home which now sits on his then-property. The one-level, inverted L-shaped room, all he seemed to need. Beside it, a large, overgrown willow tree gave shade in summer and was the perfect windbreaker during the winter months. A line of pine trees separated the grounds from my grandparents' home, the land stretching back towards
He used to walk with me around the property, pointing out this plant or that bug, all the while puffing on a rollie. He seemed to love his world. I viewed him like a child should, with great respect and reverence. Every summer, until his death, he was salvation for me. He offered freedom from my grandmother and the tyranny I felt at the hands of his son, my grandfather. My time with him was always quality time.
I stood in awe as he opened the wire gate and freed a few hens from their roost. I had no idea why he wanted me to catch one, but the chase was merry and filled with laughter. I failed to secure a bird, as requested, so he sauntered over, grabbed one by the head and lifted it, securing it upside down by its feet. He walked over to the large, stained tree stump, pressed it against the wood then freed the hatchet which sat imbedded in the round. He offered it to me. "Don't be afraid, boy," he urged. "It's just a chicken."
I truly had no idea what we wanted from me, but I shook my head and declined his invitation. He laughed with glee and raised the axe with one mighty stoke, then dropped it against the neck of the bird. The head popped off as if shot out by a cannon, blood silencing the clucking of what I assumed was a now dead beast. He slammed the hatchet back into the trunk and freed the body from his grasp. It dropped on its belly. I stood in shock at what happened next.
That brainless bird sped around the yard like a chicken with its head cut off. Blood squirted from its detachment, spewing all over its feathers and the ground that was its path. I couldn't believe my eyes. I watched the creature run in circles, to and fro, all the time eyeing Great-Grandpa. He stood smiling, laughing. You could tell the pleasure he received in watching me squirm. I wasn't around for most of his life, but this day I could see his joy. He chucked that head in a pile of who knows what, then waited.
When the life had drained out of it, the corpse hit the ground like a bouncing ball. He walked to it, picked it up, again by the claws, and seemed to shake out the rest of its essence. He took me by the hand and led me to the picnic table just behind his place. Methodically, he showed me how to clean the bird, plucking feather after feather in a cascading motion. I took my turn, the entire time looking to him for guidance and assurance that this was how it had always been. When the body was clean, he stood, walked over to the wooden stump, then once again freed the hatchet. He walked back to the table, grabbed the dead thing by its lower appendages, and offered me the tool one last time. I took it with great reservation.
I closed my eyes and dropped it down, chopping off, with one stroke, the claws. He took the bird, made a slit in its belly and proceeded to gut the thing right in my face. I had never seen the inside of any animal, but remember being fascinated. With each thrust in, he would pull out another organ. He showed me the entrails, the heart and defined the rest of the goo for me.
A few hours later and I tasted the bird. It was just like all the other chicken I had ever tasted. I admit I felt guilty for killing, then consuming, the poor thing, but he once again reminded me that "it was just a chicken." While I still devour such sources of protein, it is the lesson from that day that I remember the most. The time he took to teach me, and the happiness I can still feel, just makes me want to cry. Sometimes the tears come regardless of the distance between then and now.
A few years later and his dead body rested soundly in his oak coffin. I was so thankful that he looked the same. When my Mother had told me of his passing I was sad, but I was also consumed with worry. Looking down on him in his box, I was just glad they left his head on.
"Distance not only gives nostalgia, but perspective, and maybe objectivity."(Robert Morgan, American Poet)
The summer of 1977 found me wanting. I did not crave some comic book, nor did I covet a toy or some thing which I had yet to possess. No outside activity drew my attention. No event piqued my interest. I did not strive for a medal from swimming lessons or need to see some movie in the theatre. At 12 years of age, it was Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and time with my father that drove my desire and ignited my senses.Channel 12, a CTV affiliate known as CKCO-TV Kitchener, had yet to be absorbed by a larger network and stood as the prominent local channel for
At 6:30 p.m., every Sunday evening that summer, the station broadcast The Godfather, Part One and Two, played consecutively, and split into segments which played for a half-hour. With my maternal Italian background, and the memory of my Great-grandfather, I was drawn in quickly. After dinner, my Father would watch the news, then call me from my inner world to watch with him. Throughout June, July and August, this was a time we would share together.
My Dad had always been involved in the lives of his 5 children, making go-carts or cheering us on at sporting events. This was my time with him. Although my Mother would occasionally leave her kitchen to watch with us, primarily it was just me and my Pop. He would place a bowl of salted peanuts on the coffee table for us to share, then when the coast was clear, he would send me to the fridge for his one beer of the day. I remember watching him nurse it, all the while munching on the snack he placed out before us.
For those months, tales of the Corleone family weighted my attention. It was not so much the movie that merited my favour, although for an adult drama it held me captive. It was the sense of camaraderie with my Father that kept me returning week after week. The closeness, and feeling of safety, our "special time" still stands as comfort in the face of distance from those days and that place. It has always been a touchstone for me. It is somewhere to hide when I envision the things that are to come.
Like my Green Lantern ring, or that bloodied bird, it acts to awaken that sense of wonder within me. I become dewy-eyed all over again. I see though to my once uncorrupted sense of being. I now realize my ring had no power. I now realize that it was just a chicken. I even recognize that what may have been for me, each Sunday that summer, was no more to my Father than time with one of his kids. All three, regardless, reignite my childhood innocence.
When I was a boy, I thought as a boy, felt as a boy and was a boy. As an adult, I view the reality of my past with great affection. I wish I was now what I once was then. I wish I had that imagination, that curiosity and that ability to embrace a simple moment, then cherish it forever. I suppose, in some way, I have learnt to go there again. I have heard the message and live better in my now. I have found my innocence, not lost.
“What is important in life is life, and not the result of life.”(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German polymath)