and the Zekoonies
"Grampa!" cried the little girl as she bounded into the old man's kitchen.
"Why, it's little Zoey!" he exclaimed, hugging his granddaughter and hoisting her high. "You're getting to be a big girl now. I guess I can't call you 'little' Zoey any longer, can I?"
"I'm big. I be going to preschool soon."
"Well, good for you! And what will you learn there?"
Zoey didn't know much yet about going to preschool. "I don't know," she shrugged. She guessed it was something like "going to" church. Or maybe it was like "going to" the park, where she fed the ducks.
"I bet you'll have a good time there," he predicted. She decided there must be ducks.
There was something long and green lying on the kitchen countertop. Zoey's eyes widened. "Lookit that skinny watermelon!" she cried.
He laughed. "No, that's not a watermelon. It's called a zucchini."
"Oh," she said.
He sliced the squash in two. "See, it's not all pink and mooshy inside. It's almost white. And these are the little seeds. I grow these zucchinis myself in the garden."
"Yes, right out there. Want to go see?" They went out to the back yard, where he proudly showed her his three plants.
"Zekoonies!" she exclaimed. "Lotsa zekoonies. Why they on those little trees?"
"That's how they grow. See, here's a little baby zucchini, and in a few days it'll get bigger and we'll be able to pick it and take it into the house and eat it."
She marveled at this for a while. Her parents had no such plants at her house. She asked him, "How'd you get alla these zekoonies in your yard?"
"Where do you think they came from?"
She paused, then shrugged, "I don't know."
"Have you ever seen plants like this before?"
"I don't know." It was her default answer. But then she thought back to last Christmas, a wonderful time. Her mother had purchased a potted poinsettia, with leaves of green and brilliant red, for the living room. "What's that?" Zoey had asked. "A pon-setta. Santa brought it," her mother had fibbed.
Now Zoey pondered the squash bed. "I know where they came from," she proclaimed. "Santa Claus brought them! For Christmas. And you couldn't keep them in the house, you didn't have any room, 'cause Gramma was sick and all. So you put them out here. And they were sad, and, and it was cold, and alla red leaves fell off, and they got teeny tiny. But then the sun came out and the snow melted and the little zekoonies started growing and they got bigger and bigger. But you told them, 'Don't get fat like a watermelon!' So they didn't. But they're gonna get ripe. They're gonna turn red, and then you'll take them all in the house, and you can save them for when Santa comes back next time!"
Her grandfather laughed. "That's a great story, Zoey!" She giggled. "But of course, it didn't really happen quite like that."
He couldn't help himself. He used to be a biology teacher. He explained to her in some detail how he himself had planted and watered the seeds. The seeds had DNA inside them, so they knew what to do. They swelled up and got much bigger and turned into plants. Then the plants traded DNA dust with each other so they could make new seeds, which they hid inside big green squashes. Then someone came along and took the squashes away and ate them. But not all the seeds got eaten up. Some of them escaped and fell to the ground and made new plants.
This was the strangest tale Zoey had ever heard. "Who told you that?" she demanded.
"Well, I learned it from books. People figured all this out and wrote it down in books."
"Right. They look at things very closely and measure them and learn all the facts. Then they use those facts to decide how things work."
She was dubious. "Or maybe Santa brought the zekoonies."
"Whatever," he chuckled.
They retired to the enclosed porch and sat side by side in the two chairs.
There are two ways, he thought to himself, that we humans develop our stories of how the world works.
Like Zoey, we can use our imagination to make everything up. Or like the scientists, we can gather evidence and evaluate it before arriving at logical conclusions.
These stories get written down in books, and it's up to us to decide which make sense. The first method produces useless fairy tales. Only the second method will lead us to the truth.
Zoey had been thinking to herself, too. She fidgeted in her chair. She thought Grampa looked sad. And she thought she knew why. "Mommy says," she offered, "that Gramma is never coming back."
"That's right, Zoey," he answered. "She died."
"Mommy says she's in heaven now."
He didn't answer.
Zoey explicated her proposition. "I know all about heaven. Heaven is where God is. It's bright and shiny and made out of gold and joolry and stuff. And clouds! It's way up in the sky. And God sits on a big big throne, 'cause he runs the whole world. He can do whatever he wants. And he knows what we're doing down here, too, alla time."
She sang a fragment of a hymn, or something like a hymn.
"And, and God loves ever'body in the whole world. And if he looks down and sees something bad is gonna happen to somebody, he stops it! 'Cause he can do anything. So there can't never be anything bad happen to us, not never. God's up in heaven, and Gramma, and they're gonna take care of us!"
Zoey's monologue began to run down. She thought about her grandmother, who had been in poor health as far back as the girl could remember.
"Does Gramma still feel bad?" she asked her grandfather.
"Does she still cough alla time, up in heaven? And hafta breathe ossie jen?"
"No, she doesn't have those problems anymore," he answered.
"She's all better now, isn't she? Up there in heaven. Ever'body's happy." Zoey thought of the times when her grandmother had seemed happy. "What about Snoofy?" Snoofy had been Gramma's old dog; he died only a couple of weeks before she did. "Is he up there with her?"
Her grandfather reassured her that, yes, pets go to heaven too.
Or maybe he explained that, no, heaven was only for people.
Or maybe he told her that pets go to purgatory. Or to limbo. Or to some special pet paradise. Are animals supposed to have souls? He didn't think so. Maybe they can be reincarnated as something else.
It didn't matter. There were no facts to investigate, so he was inventing an answer, and he could make up any answer that suited his mood.
Whatever it was that her grandfather told her, the girl decided to rely on divine revelation. "I know Snoofy and Gramma are together. She wants him there," she smiled. This was the answer that made her happy.
Zoey pondered mortality. "Santa Claus is getting old, too. When he dies, I betcha he'll go to heaven. He's good. He brings presents to alla little boys and girls."
Then she remembered something else she'd heard. "Mommy said that someday, if we're good, we're all gonna be with Gramma in heaven."
"That's what they say," her grandfather remarked noncommittally.
"You gonna be there too?" she asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Mommy says she's scared you won't get into heaven."
"She said that?"
"'Cause you don't never come to church."
This was quite true; he had drifted away from his family's religion. His folks had been sure of the Way of Life. There was no need even to consider other possibilities, because they knew that the Way, their Way, was the right way.
But even the Bible admits that the "kingdom of God" is for babies.
So you have to accept this "kingdom" with a naïve trust, unthinkingly, as if you were a little child. If you do too much thinking about it, you won't be allowed inside.
Why had he insisted on thinking rationally for himself? Why had he substituted reality for the blind certainty of the perfect Way? Why had he lost the childlike faith of his youth? Why had he put it away, in the toy box, with his other outgrown things? Why?
"That's a Bible on the table," Zoey pointed out. This was also quite true. It had belonged to Gramma. She was the one who read it every day, hoping it would magically give her eternal life or at least cure her emphysema.
"Mommy says, alla answers in there. Read it," Zoey commanded, doing her small part to save his soul.
He smiled indulgently and picked up the Bible. He opened it for the first time in years. His wife had bookmarked several of her favorite chapters, and the book fell open to one of them, First Corinthians, chapter 13.
To his surprise, St. Paul told him why. It's all a part of growing up.
In another story, Zoey wants a dollhouse. Click here.