When I was in first grade at St. Mary’s Catholic School, Sister Mary Michael took us through the Baltimore Catechism, and one of the things that Sister taught us was that you couldn’t get into heaven unless you were Catholic. Poor little Pisces that I was, I took Religion class incredibly seriously and Sister’s news upset me no end. My dad was Methodist and all I could think was how mean it seemed of God the Father, with his white beard and generally scowling face, to keep my dad out of heaven on such a minor technicality. I did, however, understand hierarchy, even then, so I finally screwed up my courage and asked my dad if he wouldn’t please become a Catholic so that he could get into heaven. I don’t remember much of his long answer to me (the short answer was: “No”), but it did leave me with a startling new idea, which was that not everything Sister said was definitely, absolutely true and that I ought to listen to what she said and ask myself if it made sense. I doubt my dad understood that he was turning his eldest daughter into a Witch.
Sunday afternoon, G/Son came over to stay with me for a while. It was rainy and cold outside and he had a tummy ache (“Too many peanutbutter and Nutella sandwiches,” according to Son), so we stayed inside and played Set and Uno, and watched The Halloween Tree, and had a treasure hunt, and pulled things out of Nonna’s arts and crafts drawers and made pictures with glitter glue, and crayons, and tie-dyed paper, and had a long, steamy bath with the plastic dinosaurs, and put on our soft, warm pajamas, and got under the heavy covers, and read a chapter of The Secret Garden.
G/Son is as excited about Halloween as any seven-year old boy (which is to say: very) and, at one point, he was explaining to me about “Count Dracula.”
“Nonna, know what?”
“You know Count Dracula?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Well, Nonna, know what?”
“If Count Dracula bites your neck, either you die or you become his minion and, Nonna, do you know which one is worse?”
“No, which one is worse?”
“Being Count Dracula’s minion is worse because if he bites you and you die, you could go to heaven, but if he bites you and you become his minion, then you have to do whatever he says and, when you do die, you have to go to the gates of hell, and not heaven.”
“Hmm. Well, Nonna doesn’t believe in heaven and hell, but I do agree that being Count Dracula’s minion and then dying would be worse than just dying.”
There was a long pause as G/Son clearly tried to figure out how to say what he wanted, processing everything that he’s learned in his nice, Episcopal second-grade class and what he kind of understands about his Nonna’s religion. Finally, he said, in that sincere-little-boy voice that can move anyone who hears it:
“Well, Nonna. At least believe in heaven.”
You know, I love that kid.
Picture found here.