I will never forget one particular unexpected precious bond I had with our youngest daughter that occurred at our parsonage kitchen table. For some reason she has always been one to hold family members to precise time commitments. When I left the house for work, Sonja, in her teens, never failed to ask “What time will you be home?”
“Five o’clock or six,” I often replied hastily as I rushed toward the front door.
“Dad, are you coming home at 5 or 6?”
“5:30,” I would reply firmly, hoping to satisfy the persistent time-keeper’s need to press on.
One early Sunday morning when she was four years old I served her a bowl of cereal as I prepared to leave for church. Her mother and sister were still sleeping. It was going to be a hectic agenda-packed day and I was starting to feel the pressure building when she looked up at me and inquired innocently “Daddy, will you stay home with me today so we can play?”
I attempted to comfort her with the classic fatherly, and often whiny, expression “Daddy has to go to work.”
“Why?” she replied. That was her thirteenth “Why?” put to me that morning.
I came up with what I thought at the time to be a clever rationale for a four-year-old mind. I asked “Do you like that cereal?”
“Yes” she murmured with milk dribbling down her chin. “Well, daddy works so that we can buy cereal so you can eat that delicious cereal.”
There was a long, thoughtful dangerous 4-year-old pause. She dropped her spoon, grabbed my arm, looked up at me excitedly and sputtered, “If I stop eating my cereal will you stay home with me?” I was tempted to call in sick that Sabbath morn. I walked sadly out of the house in my milk-spattered suit as our little one shouted “What time you comin’ home, daddy? What time you comin’ home?”
One of the holiest moments I ever experienced came by way of an innocent little church courtyard visitor. While stepping up to the church office door one early morning before the secretaries arrived I glimpsed out of the corner of my eye a young girl in a Catholic school dress standing near the fountain on the patio. She had a mischievous expression on her face and I assumed she was waiting for me to disappear through the door.
I stepped inside, shut the door noisily and peeked out at her from behind a curtain. She turned toward the street to make sure no one was watching then she reeled around to face the fountain, gingerly dipped her fingers into the water, touched her forehead and made the sign of the cross. The little fountain nymph performed the water ritual three times. After that she stood for a moment with her head down, then straightened up, looked directly toward the window where I stood, gleamed, and gave a slight wave. Through exposed misty eyes behind the window I acknowledged her tender ritual. She turned and skipped out of the courtyard.
It was not a defiant glance or a gesture that conveyed, “Hey, look what I got away with in the patio of a Protestant church,” but a warm, engaging glimpse that seemed to say, ‘Hi, Pastor, I know that being a good Catholic girl I should not be in this place but you and I both know we are going to get caught up in the day’s activities, you in your church work and I in my school work. Let’s take a moment to remind ourselves we all belong together today.’ The little courtyard priestess somehow sensed on that occasion it is one thing to chance transgressing on spiritual foreign soil occasionally, it is quite another to risk connecting with a total stranger on alien turf with no strings attached.
I have met enough loyal Roman Catholics adults that would avoid stepping onto Protestant property. My hunch is the sweet Catholic water Neptune knew she was transgressing on that occasion and her heart might have been racing when she peeked out toward the street to see if any of her school mates were watching. It was a daring act reflecting the need to transcend her faith and societal influence to enter into the depths of human interaction to satisfy that innate urge that convinces us we must believe deep down that we belong to all beings.
The older I get and the closer I come to the end of my life the more I think about those who will continue to live after me. I’ve been cherishing my grandkids a little more lately. I would like to believe it’s for their benefit and not just mine but I came across an essay by a philosopher that convinced me my thoughts might have more to do with my own needs when it comes to finishing this life.
I’ve always taken for granted what matters most when I grow old is to be assured my offspring, grandkiddies and friends will never forget me and never stop loving me. But we have one grandchild who is our resident comedian and he can be truly blunt on occasion. He’s a fun kid but sadly he tends to harbor a Holden Caulfield “Catcher in the Rye” curiosity.
I often take our grandchildren for donut runs when they stay at our place. Our comedic character who was ten and sitting in the back seat blurted out “Hey, Grampa Buzz, you’re getting old and that means you’re going to die pretty soon. Will you be thinking of us when you die?”
“Is that important for you to know,” I asked.
“Nah, I’m just making conversation and I guess I’m bored.”
“Well if you’re serious, Riley, I’ll probably be thinking of you until the day I die. Will you be thinking about me a lot after I die?”
“Nah, probably not.” I figured he was half-joking but his expression in the rearview mirror conveyed he was dead serious. The young clown managed to ruin my day.
He’s the kid, when he was about five or six, who asked me about his great grandmother’s recent death.
“Grampa Buzz, will they have boy and girl bathrooms up there in Heaven where Bestemor will be and will they be separate bathrooms?”
This is when I can get back at the kid and when it pays off to be a preacher. “The boys and girls will use the same bathrooms.”
“Ugh! Where does all that pee go when they flush?”
“Well, let me put it this way. When it rains just don’t look up but if you do be sure to keep your lips sealed.”
I got in a lot of trouble with his Mom when she discovered why he wanted to spend more time inside during the rainy season. I thought it was worth it, but then maybe not.
During one of those record-breaking hot days in July my mind and body sort of shut down. It happens on the desert floor, so that day I tried to think about cool things, heavenly things and suddenly a sweet scenario came to mind. The night my father died I sat on the edge of the bed of our four-year-old and asked “Where do you think Grandpa is right now?”
“He’s in Heaven,” she replied with a sparkle.
“What do you suppose he’s doing there?”
“Nothing,” she countered confidently.
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” she said thoughtfully, “he’s sitting up there doing nothing.”
“Do you mean he can’t move around?” I inquired.
“Nope!” My puzzled expression gave her reason to comfort me with “It’s OK Dad, he can wiggle.” I could picture St. Peter standing by watching the saints go wiggling in.
The next morning I overheard our little one share her heavenly image with her chum while playing on the swing set. “Yuk!” her friend exclaimed cringing with the thought. “You mean wiggling and sitting down like a worm on a chair?”
“No silly,” my infant theologian replied “like belly dancers.”
I don’t know where she picked up on that bit of insight but I knew in time it would be making its way through the halls of her Sunday school.
The swing set dialogue continued. “Belly dancers, yuk!”
“Yeah belly dancers” the preacher’s kid replied. “So what do you think it’s like in Heaven?”
Without pause for reflection her friend answered “First you have to go through a car wash after you die. Then you…”
“Yuk, then what?” my daughter screeched.
“Then you march into Heaven all nice and shiny?”
I figure if the truth be known it would be somewhere between a wiggle and a march but if I have to depart from this place in mid-summer a car wash might not be a bad way to exit…except, of course, for those giant roller brushes…Yuk!