On the way to camp one morning, we were talking about books. I had given Suzie The Light Princess by George MacDonald and told her that he also wrote one of my favorite books when I was her age, At The Back of the North Wind and how it ends up being sad but not sad. Suzie asked for further explanation.
“Do you remember what a metaphor is, Suzannah? It’s when one thing stands for something else. The boy in the story, Diamond, is happy, but they are poor, and he has a hard life, just like the North Wind blows hard and cold in the winter. When Diamond visits the country at the back of the North Wind, it is warm and beautiful and nice. He has enough to eat. At the end of the book, he goes there to stay: the metaphor is that he has gone to heaven. It's odd for the main character a children's book to die, but even though it's sad, you’re also kind of happy for Diamond.
And then Alan led us off on a philosophical trajectory.
Alan: What's heaven?
Me: A lot of people believe you go to heaven after you die. It’s a beautiful place, and everyone is happy. I personally do not believe in heaven, but a lot of people do.”
Suzannah: I believe in heaven.
Alan: I don’t believe in heaven. I believe in . . . Devon. Devon is a place where monsters live. (He happily informed us) I am a monster. When you and Suzie die, you will go to heaven, but (with no small amount of satisfaction) I will go to Devon.
Our next profound conversation took place while Suzie was off at the big camp 4th grade sleepover. Not wanting Alan, a rising first-grader, to feel he was missing anything, we let him choose a special restaurant for dinner. His preference? Dairy Queen. While we ordered, he flipped through their cake book (yes, we have to look at EVERY cake.)
His little fingers paused at a cake showing the Grim Reaper standing by an open grave. It was embossed with large black letters R.I.P (I don’t know about you, but I wonder what might be the occasion for such a cake.)
Alan: What’s R.I.P.?
Yeah, you try to explain that to a five-year-old.
I will say that I am often amazed at the amount of trivia Steve and I have amassed between us. I explained what R.I.P meant and why it’s on tombstones. Alan was also interested in the figure in the black robe.
Steve told him that the Grim Reaper originated in the Middle Ages (no, I’m sure Alan has no idea what the Middle Ages are. Thank goodness he didn’t ask.) during the Bubonic Plague which was a sickness that made a lot of people die back then. (Since his other grandfather died, it has been well established that Papa and I are NEVER going to die.) We talked about how back then a farmer used a scythe to reap, that is cut down, grain, so the Grim Reaper uses a scythe to reap souls when people die. Yeah, you try explaining what and where a soul is to a five-year-old. That was the first thing he wanted to know. Next question?
Yes, after the Grim Reaper comes, people can still turn into zombies. (What the heck, follow the logic, and you'll come to that conclusion, too.) Alan has an abiding interest in zombies and is well informed about them. He told us that zombies do NOT east people’s brains. No, they punch you in the nose. That is what zombies do, in case you didn’t know.
Steve talked about how the Asian rats carried the fleas that carried the plague bacteria came with goods along the Silk Route. By the time he explained what the Silk Route as and I added the information that the plague died out partly because the Asian rats were overrun by the big Norwegian rats, on which the fleas didn’t thrive, well by then, we were talking to each other. Alan was pretty much enthralled contemplating zombies, as you do while eating your ice cream at DQ. While he was deep in thought, a lovely lady stopped by the table and said, “What a good little boy you are, sitting here eating your dinner. You were so quiet, we hardly knew you were here.”
Thank you, Grim Reaper and your zombies.
I was pretty sure, however, that this topic would come back after lights out to bite me. Sure enough, at 8:30, a little voice called from the top of the stairs, “Nana, I want to talk about something. It’s about the Gwim Weaper.”
In the end, he decided the Grim Reaper was not a monster. (Alas, I thought, when he dies, he will not go to Devon.) He is really just a boy in a Halloween costume. Alan saw a Halloween costume once that was a scary ghost with bones all over its face that really frightened him. The Grim Reaper is the like that.
Next came the what-else-can-I-milk-this-for portion of the evening. “Nana, will you sing me another song?”
Of course I will. Of course I’ll sing my Perfect Grandson another song. How about arousing lullaby of “Nobody loves me/Everybody hates me/I’m gonna eat some worms”?
I left him to giggle himself to sleep.