Riches and Rhymes

The Poetry and Writing of Janis Gaines

Did You Suffer Any Early Trauma?

NOTE: This post deals with animal cruelty. Please do not read if this is a trigger for you. I sincerely hope that most of you won’t read it, but if you’ve experienced something similar, my intention is to let you know that you are not alone.

Maybe you’ve noticed that it’s been a few days since my last post. I got hung up on this story – should I tell it or not? It’s not a pretty story, and it won’t have a happy ending. It would certainly be easiest just to tell all of the fun stories, but that wouldn’t really show the full picture of who I am or what life is for most of us. So in the hope to be authentic – and not to seek pity or to place blame – I offer this story to bear witness to the preciousness of all life.

In my desire to share some of my life stories, I’ve started with my childhood – somewhat in a chronological order. I think this event happened when I was about 7 or 8 years old. Some of the details may be fuzzy since I’ve tried to block it out.

Our family was on vacation, visiting a relative. We were either visiting my aunt in Denver or possibly my grandparents (dad’s parents) in Manchester, Tennessee. I remember it was a beautiful spring day. I have a sense that my dad was doing some yard work. I remember heading out to the yard to see what was going on; my older brother was outside too.

I walked outside to find my dad and brother standing over a bird’s nest on the ground. It had fallen from a nearby tree. And there will little baby birds chirping away! It was amazing to see them up close! They barely had any feathers, and their little mouths were open and wanting to be fed.

I had just fixed my gaze in wonder at this incredible newness of life, when my brother began to stomp the birds to death. He smashed them all under his feet quite immediately and brutally. I was horrified and ran into the house, heaving with uncontrollable tears.

He believed that the momma bird would not return to the nest if it had the scent of human hands, if we had returned the nest to the tree. He believed that the birds would have suffered anyway, and he was putting them out of their misery, so to speak. While I could hear that rationale, I certainly could not understand it at that age.

What I’ve come to know about pain is that you can’t ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist. It will only fester and get worse. I’ve learned that you have to own it, to witness it, and it helps to have others who can hold space for you when you go through a tragedy. You have to feel it to heal it, or you risk going numb and wind up creating even more detours in your life that carry you further away from a life of love. You have to honor the scars that are part of the human experience, and in so doing, you honor and love and begin to heal yourself.

For me, turning pain into art helps to heal the broken heart. Today I’m an avid bird watcher; it brings me great joy. Thanks for holding space for me and for the birds.

Did you suffer any early trauma? If so, you can simply say yes below without sharing any painful details. I know many of you have suffered so much worse. We can honor the memory with love and gratitude for life and for the lessons learned.


This post is part of a personal writing series for 2020, Owning My Story

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© January 29, 2020
Tryon, NC

Were You Ever Teased as a Kid?

Yes, I remember some early teasing about weight (ugh) and wearing glasses (“four-eyes”; the lenses were thick and I was practically blind without them) and sometimes about being tall. But the first teasing story that I remember being really hurt about happened at home.

The back of the picture here says 3, but I think I was closer to 4 or 5 years old. I had this outfit that I really loved. It was a blue jumper with an ice cream cone, front and center on the chest, and it was my very favorite. It’s a simple thing, but it made me happy. There’s a good chance mom made this outfit for me, but I don’t know for sure.

This picture is of me standing by the side of my house, all smiles, but what you don’t see is that moments later, I was told that I was outgrowing the outfit and would not be allowed to wear it anymore, and I burst into tears. Big weepy tears. My brother thought that was so funny, and he chased me around the yard with a camera, trying to get a picture of me crying. My little girl heart was crushed.

And yes, that picture exists somewhere. If I find it, maybe I will share it. It’s not posted here, but it’s a memory that is etched in my mind. What I learned that day is that my sadness was mocked and my tears were laughable and something that was precious to me was diminished. And someone close to me who should have been safe and protective felt like a threat.

So what’s the big deal? It’s just clothes, but now that I think about it, there might have been an emotional link with the ice cream cone and my dad. Sometimes, he would take us up to Mayfield’s Ice Cream at Embry Hills for a treat. I always ordered chocolate marshmallow in a cup – no cone and no nuts! Those moments were always special. See, dad travelled a lot for work and often wasn’t home, so when he was, it was a big deal to get to spend time with him.

I’m usually not so attached to my clothes, but I’ve spent a lifetime trying to feel comfortable in my own skin.

Were you ever teased as a kid?


This post is part of a personal writing series for 2020, Owning My Story

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© January 23, 2020
Tryon, NC

What Are Your Favorite Songs from the 1970s?

I have quite a few songs that I remember for different reasons from this decade.

On the Good Ship Lollipop (1934) – Shirley Temple

I would dance around my room as a little girl and sing this song.
A good ship of lollipops sounded good to me, lol.


The Sound of Silence (1964) – Simon & Garfunkel

So beautiful and haunting; my first impression of irony and alliteration!


I Got You, Babe (1965) – Sonny and Cher


Delta Dawn (1972) – Tanya Tucker

I only remember the chorus, the line about the rose and then a mansion- in-the-sky – very churchy song on the radio.


The Cat’s in the Cradle (1974) – Harry Chapin

Power ballad about making family a priority before time passes by.


The Streak (1974) – Ray Stevens

Funny, risqué comedy!


Rhinestone Cowboy (1975) – Glen Campbell

Our family had an 8-track player, and I would play this song, along with Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head, over and over while dancing around in our living room. I liked that his first name was “Glen” since my last name was “Glenn” at the time. It felt like a personal connection with someone very cool.


50 Ways to Leave Your Lover (1975) – Paul Simon

Also comedy, yet helpful for future reference?


Theme from Mahogany (1975) – Diana Ross

This one has a much more personal connection.
My father would speak at churches, raising money and recruiting medical missionaries for World Outreach, and this was the theme song of his presentation. I heard it a million times, always in the context of wanting to live a life with purpose and help people.


Carry On, My Wayward Son (1976) – Kansas
Probably on my list because I had an older brother!
A lot of his music became my music.


Dancing Queen (1976) – ABBA

I loved a lot of ABBA songs, but this was THE anthem.
I absolutely loved when it came back around in Mamma Mia.


Come Sail Away (1977) – Styx


Lay Down Sally (1977) – Eric Clapton

So, this song actually bothered me quite a bit.
Every time it came on the radio, it felt creepy.
A guy telling a woman to lay down seemed too commanding and didn’t feel right to my little girl mind.


You Needed Me (1978) – Anne Murray

#alltheswoonyfeels. “I needed you and you were there…”
Apparently, I was a very emotional 8 year old, lol.


Grease (1978)

Loved. The. Whole. Thing.


Steve Miller Band Greatest Hits (1974-78)

I loved every song on this album. I’m sure I knew of this group, thanks to my brother.


There are probably more, but this has been a wonderful trip down memory lane! This was the soundtrack to my childhood — very eclectic mix, looking back.

What are your favorite songs from the 1970s?


This post is part of a personal writing series for 2020, Owning My Story

© January 20, 2020
Tryon, NC

Have You Ever Performed in a Talent Show?

Yes, and I always did something that involved singing.

In 3rd grade in the mid-70s, I lip-synced to a Wings/Paul McCartney song called “Silly Love Songs.” That’s way before lip-syncing was a thing. I remember just standing in front of my classmates in a music room and singing while the song played on a record player. That’s it, lol. But I loved the song. I had practiced over and over and over again, lol. (Interesting trivia: Here in Tryon, NC, I currently live two doors down from my former elementary school music teacher, Mrs. Linda Powell. I suppose I have her to thank for this post!).


Also, around this same age I participated in a talent show at church, hosted in some theater which I don’t remember anything else about. Susan Stumbaugh, daughter of GA state senator Bud Stumbaugh, was a good friend of mine at the time, and together we sang a camp song called “Three Little Angels,” which goes on FOREVER! The lyrics are about angels and devils and red, green, and white and there’s a countdown of 3-2-1 for each one. It’s a Christian version of 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, lol. It’s amazing that someone did not pull us off the stage. We belted it out loud and proud of ourselves.

In high school in the mid-80s, our chorus always put on a yearly talent show, and one year I remember singing “Live to Tell” by Madonna with two other girls; we had about three dance moves and one harmony, lol.


Also in high school, for a youth group mission trip fundraiser, I sang “My Father’s Eyes” by Amy Grant. Later, at a youth group graduation ceremony, I sang “Friends Are Friends for Forever” by Michael W. Smith and struggled to finish because I was crying.


So funny looking back, but I am thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to be a part of something, to explore doing what I loved and practice finding the courage to stand up in front of people. I believe these have all served me well in life.

I went on to sing in a few weddings during my college years. In early 2000, I was asked to perform an original love song that I had written, called My Beloved, at a friend’s wedding. That was a great honor. In Asheville by 2014, I was singing with the Praise and Worship team at Faith International Church (now The Heights City Church, such wonderful people!) for a few years, which had always been a dream of mine. I so loved that experience.

It’s kind of amazing to look back at the trajectory of how things play out in life after the beginning seems so “silly.”

Have you ever performed in a talent show?


This post is part of a personal writing series for 2020, Owning My Story

© January 18, 2020
Tryon, NC

How Did You Learn to Read?

Learning to read came very easily to me.

When I was 4 or 5 years old, I would ask for the same Dr. Seuss book to be read to me, night after night. I’m sure it’s a favorite for many: Green Eggs and Ham!

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I loved the pictures. I loved that it rhymed. It was silly, playful, and fun. Soon, I had the entire thing memorized and I could predict what would happen as someone would turn the page. I loved that it provided special time with one of my parents. I’m sure they would get tired of it.

In school, by second grade, we were doing the SRA (Science Research Associates) program (the point of view in the link is negative, but it shows the same program I used). It was a self-paced program of reading cards and answering questions, and then moving on to the next level. I loved that too! I really loved all opportunities to learn, to think, to expand my knowledge of the world. And I still do.

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Some early literary favorites include the Go, Dog, Go!, the Berenstain Bears, Amelia Bedelia, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Encyclopedia Brown, Little House on the Prairie, Little Black Sambo, Beverly Cleary books, the Boxcar Children, and many more titles by Dr. Seuss.

In second grade, I went through a phase of voraciously checking out books from the library. I would read anything and everything I could get my hands on. Once my mother sent a note to the librarian at the school to ask them not to let me check out any more sad books! So many dealt with animal deaths or cruelty, and I just couldn’t handle it. It’s still something I’m sensitive to.

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Reading was an adventure, an escape, a safe place, a best friend. Reading was always there. It was something I could do well, and I always loved English class the best. A shout out to my parents, all the librarians, and some of my favorite English teachers along the way: Mrs. Tierney (5th), Mrs. Weingarten (Gifted class), Mrs. Parks (7th), Mrs. Balkman (8th), and Mrs. Levy (9th). Thank you for inspiring my love for learning.

How did you learn to read?


This post is part of a personal writing series for 2020, Owning My Story

© January 16, 2020
Tryon, NC

Did You Ever Make a Mess As a Kid?

I’m sure there is more than one story I could tell, but the one that stands out the most happened in 1st grade.

I attended Midvale Elementary School in Tucker, Georgia. My first-grade teacher was Mrs. Walsh. She was tall with dark brown hair and a soothing voice. I remember having a brown desk with a place to keep a pencil box. There was one bathroom attached to the room and an open closet lined up on a side wall full of coats and backpacks and lunchboxes. In the back was a giant carpet square where we would gather for story or play time – a pretty typical classroom.

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While students could buy a school lunch in the cafeteria, I almost always brought a lunch from home (thanks, mom!). I usually ate a sandwich, maybe some chips, and an apple. Unless it was Friday, which was always pizza day, then I usually wanted that, even though it was still “cafeteria food.” I remember that kids would sometimes trade food, eager to taste what others were eating or trying to trade up for a better snack.

For fifty cents, students could also buy an ice cream or a popsicle, if they had extra money. One day I bought a grape popsicle, but I ran out of time to finish eating it, so I put it in my lunch box to take home with me. Seemed like the right thing to do at the time. I certainly didn’t want to throw it away or waste it!

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Well, maybe you can guess what happened. I did not have a nice, lined, insulated lunch container – just a cheap plastic lunch box. So, sure enough, at the end of the day as everyone was collecting their belongings, my popsicle had melted and made a huge mess all over the closet! Several coats and backpacks and the whole closet floor were wet and sticky.

I remember feeling so surprised. I had no idea that my popsicle would disappear like that, lol. I was disappointed not to be able to finish it! I remember Mrs. Walsh handled it so calmly. She didn’t scold me at all; she just went right to cleaning everything up, even smiled and had a laugh about it. When my mom heard what happened, she laughed too. I was embarrassed, but so relieved not to be in trouble.

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I don’t remember everything from first grade, but I learned that day that you can’t save a popsicle! And a mess can be easy to clean up.

Did you ever make a mess as a kid?


This post is part of a personal writing series for 2020, Owning My Story

© January 14, 2020
Tryon, NC

Have You Ever Met a Famous Person?

Yes, a few, but the very first was the great boxer and iconic legend, Muhammad Ali.

I believe the year was 1976, so I would have been six years old. Our family had taken a trip from Atlanta to Los Angeles, California on a plane; this was my very first plane ride! I remember traveling, wearing my “church clothes,” a dress, because apparently that’s what most people did back then.

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We arrived in the evening. I remember that it was dark outside, accompanied by all the lights and sounds and hustle and bustle of a major airport. We collected our luggage and were waiting by the curb, perhaps for a taxi or a rental car. I’m not sure which.


Next thing I know, my dad is handing me a piece of paper and pen from his shirt pocket and telling me to go get this stranger’s autograph. I didn’t know who the man was, but I could see a small crowd beginning to form around him, about 30 feet away.

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My brother and I ran over. I just stood there and gazed up at the huge giant. He was 6’3” compared to my 3-4 ft maybe? He was handsome, well-dressed, wearing a black suit. My first thought was that he must be a movie star. I didn’t say anything. I just stood there and held up my piece of paper and looked at him in awe and waited for my turn.


He reached down and tweaked my cheek. I remember that he smiled a big grin, amused at my little girl wonder. He quickly signed his name, and I ran back to show my dad. Success!

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It was years later before I really realized who Muhammad Ali was. I kept the signature for almost two decades before it got lost or carelessly thrown way, probably in one of my many moves. I have no record of it now, but I wish I did. It felt like a full circle moment when Ali, then living with Parkinson’s disease, carried the torch and lit the Olympic flame, hands shaking, in Atlanta in 1996.


I look back now and admire his incredible bravery to be so public while so humble — to go from strong and powerful in the 70s to an altogether different type of strong and powerful in the 90s.

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Have you ever met a famous person?


This post is part of a personal writing series for 2020, Owning My Story

© January 12, 2020
Tryon, NC

What Was Your First Trip Out of the Country?

When I was little, maybe 5, 6, or 7 years old, our family took a trip to Mexico. In a station wagon! Yes, we drove across country from Atlanta, Georgia and crossed over the border into Mexico. I believe it was a business/mission work-related trip for dad. I was young and some of these memories are fuzzy, but I will do my best!


First, the car ride. We drove a long, red station wagon. I remember spending most of the trip in the “trunk” where I could stretch out flat. No seat belt law then! I would read, color, play “car” games. I remember the alphabet game, and I remember it being a very long trip. I think it took about a week to drive out there; we stayed for about a week, and then it would have been another week back, so a lot of time in the car with none of the entertainment gadgets kids have today.

Once in Mexico, I remember it feeling like a strange place. The food, the language, the money, the customs. Streets were dusty. At a stoplight, a group of young boys, even as young as my age, would run up to your car and clean it really quickly – think of a pit crew in NASCAR – and then they would hold out their hand for a tip. They would do the work first without asking. This was new to me. I had never seen anything like this in the US. This would happen at more than one stop, and you would feel guilty if you did not tip them something.

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I remember our hotel room number – seiscientos cuatro (604). I memorized it quickly and enjoyed practicing the new language. We would have to leave our room key at the front desk when we left for the day, and then ask for it again when we returned each evening.

I thought all the food was weird; even the ketchup tasted strange. I had not been exposed to many ethnic foods by that age. I remember eating a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches and drinking orange Fantas. You couldn’t drink the water. Sure enough, my brother did get sick on the trip, which made the ride home miserable for him, for everyone.

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We attended a traditional bull fight in a big stadium. It was horrendously cruel, and we left, thankfully, but not soon enough. I was scarred with those memories.

There is one scene etched in my mind, where I met a young girl my age, Palmeeto. I’m not sure about the spelling, but that’s close to the pronunciation. She couldn’t speak English any more than I could speak Spanish; nevertheless, we both enjoyed meeting a friend our own age. We understood each other enough with looks and hand signals to communicate. I remember playing in a dusty field one evening while our dads were visiting, and then she and I walked to a far-off drink stand and shared a cold Coca-Cola. It was truly a commercial moment that bridged beyond cultural differences — Have a Coke and a Smile!

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I brought home a few souvenirs – a set of clay nesting bowls, a couple of dolls – a man and a woman in traditional Mexican clothing, and some red, hand-painted maracas. And some memories to last a lifetime.
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What was your first trip out of the country?


This post is part of a personal writing series for 2020, Owning My Story

© January 12, 2020
Tryon, NC

Have You Ever Been Lost at Sea(World)?

When I was maybe 5, 6, or 7 years old, our family took a trip from Atlanta down to Florida to visit Sea World and Disney World. I remember it being a really fun vacation – the stuff of American childhood dreams!

I don’t think Sea World had all the fancy rides in the ‘70s that they added in more recent years. I would describe it more as a giant aquatic center or aquarium full of fish, otters, sea lions, orcas, etc.

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A Current Map of the Park in Orlando

While it was fun to walk around and see the sights, I was most excited about the dolphin show. Dolphins are amazingly cool mammals — so playful and intelligent. I had watched Flipper on TV, and who doesn’t love dolphins? I was fascinated by all the sounds they make and all the leaps and tricks they could do on command.

Just before the show started, my brother and I ran eagerly to sit down front, right next to the large outdoor tank, so that we could see all the action up close! My parents, who did not want to get wet, sat farther away in the back, leaving me in the care of my older brother.

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After enjoying the great event and getting soaked from all the big splashes, we went to meet up again with my parents. My brother took off in a hurry, and in the midst of the throng of the crowd, we got separated. I realized I was alone and lost.

So, what did I do? I climbed on top of the nearest trashcan at an exit gate and sat there and cried. I wailed, for what seemed like a long time, looking out at the massive crowd, hoping to see a familiar face.

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I didn’t know what else to do. I don’t know how long I sat there in the sun, waiting, but not one person came to console me or to help me in my distress. Hundreds of people walked right on by – mothers, fathers, everyone in a hurry. I felt invisible. Looking back, this baffles me. I would think that a small child, crying like I was, would have been an alarming sight!

Thankfully, my story ends well. I was eventually spotted by my parents and reunited with them, safe and sound. I never forgot the feeling of being surrounded by so many people yet feeling utterly distraught and alone, much like the parable in scripture of the man robbed, beaten, and left for dead on the side of the road until he was rescued by the Good Samaritan. I have aspired to be someone who sees the needs of others, seeking to love those who are lost.

Have you ever been lost?


This post is part of a personal writing series for 2020, Owning My Story

IMAGES: Unknown and Sea World

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© January 9, 2020
Tryon, NC

What Are Your Memories from Kindergarten?

I have a few funny/interesting memories from this time in my life.

1) I attended kindergarten at my church, where my dad worked at the time, and I loved getting to ride to work with him every day. My older brother was already in public school, so this was my special time alone with my dad. He drove a yellow Plymouth Duster at the time. The car had two doors, which were heavy for me to open and close, and I remember always slamming the car door and being told not to. Our CB handle for communicating with truckers on the road was Tweety Bird, and I loved that! At the end of a school day, I would wait in my dad’s office, and he always had Smarties candy in a white styrofaom cup on his desk. I don’t know if they were his favorite candy, but they were mine during those years.

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2) I usually finished my seat work early and sometimes, I would get bored in class, so I found myself a new project. I memorized the alphabet backwards. There was a banner border close to the ceiling with the alphabet on it, and I would stare up at it while sitting at the small table and chairs. I was so proud of myself and would recite the alphabet backwards for whoever would listen.

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3) My last clear kindergarten memory is when a friend and I got in trouble for revealing to the whole class that there is no Santa Clause. We were sent out into the hallway for a gentle scolding. This may be my first memory of feeling in trouble for something that was the truth.

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Interestingly, wanting to be like my dad, approaching life from a different perspective, and seeking truth and yet getting in trouble for it have been on-going themes in my life.

What are your memories from kindergarten?

(And wasn’t it kindergarden before kindergarten?!)

This post is part of a personal writing series for 2020, Owning My Story


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***I am 4th from the left on the bottom row. All the other girls look so cute compared to my tom-boyish sweats. I must be wearing my brother’s hand-me-downs, lol.

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© January 8, 2020
Tryon, NC