Commentary

My Bucket List for Heaven

By DOTTY CRONAN | Sep 12, 2018

This is the way my bucket list for heaven started. I was driving my grandson down Route 9 this summer after picking him up from Vacation Bible School in Lacey, heading toward Regal Manahawkin 10 to see “Incredibles 2.” All through Waretown I listened patiently to the incredible powers of each Incredible character we’d been picking up with Happy Meals.

We were halfway through Barnegat before I steered him into the subject I really wanted to hear about. “What did you learn this week in Bible School?” I fully expected his usual insightful answers, and he did not disappoint.

“Well,” he proclaimed, “in the Book of Psalms in the Bible I learned that God will embrace us and always be there for us.”

Hallelujah, my 7-year-old “Ray of Sunshine,” Raymond, is now quoting scripture.

From there our conversation floated into the subject of heaven. Perhaps inspired by the puffy white clouds contrasted against the bluest sky we’d seen in days, Raymond’s version of heaven goes like this. “I think it’s all white, well maybe a little pink, and it’s all around us, but we can’t see it.”

My version was all about spectacular colors, more beautiful than any rainbows we’ve ever seen.

Sneaking a peek in the rearview mirror, I could see his beautiful eyes and smile widening as he informed me, “In heaven we will see the people that went there before us.”

As we spoke of people getting older and bigger, I announced, “At the rate you’re growing, you’ll soon be as big as Grandma” (all 5 feet, 2 inches of me). To this he responded, “Gee, Grandma, by the time I get that big you’ll probably be in heaven.”

By the time I stopped laughing, halfway through Manahawkin, we decided that heaven is a place we want to go, but we weren’t in any hurry to get there. That’s pretty heady stuff for a happy 7-year-old.

As the Bible says, “Out of the mouths of babes” comes the most innocent praise of life and death. Also, as Art Linkletter said, “Kids say the darndest things.” As this grandma says, “My grandson says the most sincere, funniest, delightful things I’ve ever heard.”

So that’s the way my bucket list for heaven started. At the top of the list is the desire to see my mom, who died in 1994, who I’ve missed every day since. She was the sweetest, kindest, most accepting mom anyone could possibly have. Perhaps an excerpt from my memoir, Twin Adventures From a Simpler Time, will paint the picture: “As she did after every one of our excursions to woods or water, Mom came dutifully outside to admire our treasures. If we brought home a frog, she’d stretch out her dainty hand – palm up, fingers flat – in fine horse-feeding fashion, and let us place the frog on her pretend lily pad. If we brought home little garter snakes, she’d put her hands behind her back and say, “That’s nice.” In hindsight it was sort of like our cat bringing home dead birds.

She made the best sandwiches, BLTs to egg salad – BLTs at home and egg salad for school lunch. One of my funniest memories is of one of my best high school friends telling me on graduation day, “I’ll really miss all those lunch periods with you. I never saw anyone enjoy egg salad sandwiches as much as you.” Patty went on to imitate me by taking an imaginary bite, closing her eyes, sighing “umm” and dramatically patting her lips with a pretend napkin. Just the memory cracks me up. It’s like an ode to Mom’s egg salad sandwiches.

This reminds me of someone else I’d like to meet in heaven, the earl of Sandwich. I’d like to give him a big hug. He was actually the fourth earl of Sandwich, named John Montagu, and the inventor of my favorite food. Although he liked his food served this way so he didn’t  have to leave the gaming table, I prefer it so I don’t have to leave my computer. (Excuse me while I take a bite out of my sandwich.)

As I mention this earl of Sandwich idea to my husband and son, who are in the same room, they start laughing and telling me, “You’ll have to stand in a long deli line to get anywhere near him!”

Another soul I’d love to see again is Father Funcheon, my favorite priest from childhood. I cherish the faded sepia photograph of this handsome, smiling priest in the center of a bunch of smiling children gathered around him like lambs around their shepherd. And there I am right next to him, holding his left hand, and my twin brother holding his right hand. We, of course, have the brightest smiles of the flock. This photo brings back a bundle of happy memories: Father Funcheon bending way over so he could play jump rope with the girls, and taking off his black jacket so he could play catch with the boys.

I was still smiling years later as I walked down the aisle in my flowing white gown toward my high school sweetheart and my favorite priest. There will be quite a flock of souls around this faithful, loving priest, but I’m absolutely sure he will make room for me.

While I’m thinking of Catholic school, I can think of only one nun I would not want to run into in heaven, Sister Rose, my fourth-grade teacher. Don’t get me wrong, I hope she’s there, but in a different neighborhood. Another excerpt from my book will explain the reason:

“Sister Rose yanked on my right ear to move me along in line. I reacted like she’d poked me with a cattle prod. ‘No, no!’ I shrieked. ‘My stitches will come out.’ I ran off, holding my hands over my ear. I huddled in the corner and inspected my hands for blood or – worse yet – my ear! She looked at me, baffled.

But that tug on my ear sent a crystal clear memory flooding my brain: The gentle, gray-haired man who had fixed my ears hugged me, then held me at arms length and told me to be very careful not to pull the stitches out from behind my ears.

Still not understanding the wounded-animal display, the nun gently led me to the principal’s office, where she called my mom. After several minutes of listening and nodding, Sister Rose burst into laughter and assured Mom that she would tell me.

“Sister explained to me, ‘When you were born your ears did not lay nice and flat against your head. Your dad saved the money to have your ears stitched back. Now they will never stick out – or fall off!’”

Some things are just too embarrassing to confront, even in heaven, so I think I’ll sign off and get back to thinking of more famous people I’d like to meet in heaven. I’ve always thought there is a special place in heaven for singers, musicians and artists for all the joy they’ve given so many, but I hope to meet some of my favorites (in the distant future). Perhaps if you’ve completed most of your earthly bucket list, you may want to start a new one for the “distant future.”

Dotty Cronan lives in Forked River, N.J.

 

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