For me, fear and desperate planning filled the first three months of Grade 5. I had to somehow avoid Mr. Jackson’s groping hand when he drove me and his sons and daughter and my little brother to and from school. Grade 6, however, went well. No trauma that I can remember except for Dad’s drinking and the loud arguments between him and Mom. I kept hiding the hammer, axe, and knives for fear that during one of those drunken arguments he’d try to kill her again.
In fact, I remember the fall months of 1947 with enjoyment for it was then that I first studied ancient history. One November day, while reading about the Grecian city-state of Thebes, I had a déjà vu moment and roamed the streets leading up to its ancient citadel. The present merged with the past and I became Theban. That experience led me to visit Greece in 1993 and work on a Bronze-Age-Greece novel.
Remains of Cadmea, the central fortress of ancient Thebes.
The other vivid memory I have of Grade 6 concerns heaven. Over and over in religion class Sister Mary McCauley talked about the afterlife.
Dante and Beatrice gaze at the highest heavens.
“What will we do in heaven,” I asked one day.
“Why, Dolores, you’ll praise God for all His glory and beauty and goodness. You’ll sing, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts. Heaven and Earth are filled with your glory!”
“Yes. Isn’t it glorious?”
Clearly, she thought so.
The truth was that hell, despite its flames, sounded much more interesting. No mealy-mouthed humans there.
Medieval illustration of Hell
in the Hortus deliciarum manuscript
of Herrad of Landsberg—about 1180.
So I thought. And thought. And thought some more about how to make heaven appealing. After alighting from the school bus one afternoon, I ran up the rutted driveway, into the unpainted house, and called out, “Mom!”
“I’m here. In the kitchen.”
Dumping my books on the divan, I hurried to the kitchen where Mom stood at the range, stirring a steaming pot of macaroni.
“Mom!” I shouted. “You know how heaven being boring bothers me?”
“God seems so conceited. All He wants is to be praised all the time. And it just goes on and on and on with no ending. It scares me. Everything ends. What’s the end of heaven?”
“It’s the end of life I know about, Dolores. We die and we’re with God.”
“But just saying, ‘Holy, Holy,’ all the time gets monotonous. I’d like talking with people.” I paused and then confided that God simply wasn’t enough for all eternity.
“He’s pretty wonderful,” she said.
“Well, if dead people have been telling Him that since the Neanderthals”—we’d started our study of ancient history with them that year—“then He must be sort of tired of it all by now. Wouldn’t you think so?”
“So here’s my idea! When I get to heaven I’m going to ask God—as a favor—if He’d show me a movie of every person who’s ever lived—even those babies in Limbo. Going all the way back to the Neanderthals.”
“Yes," I agreed enthusiastically. "And that’s not all. I’ll ask to see not only the people but also what they thought and what they said and what they dreamed about! And I’ll see and hear their conversations when they were alive. I’ll watch their whole lives! The life of every person!”
As Mom drained the macaroni, she summed it up. “So you’re going to see a long movie?”
“The longest ever, Mom. It’ll go on and on because people keep dying and I’d keep seeing movies of their lives. Maybe God will even give me popcorn! Buttered!”
I went to bed content that night. An eternity of stories . . . and buttered popcorn.
All photographs are from Wikipedia.