Two Kinds of Heaven

The spring in Minneapolis has finally sprung, and the last few days have been glorious. Yesterday I didn’t have to work, so I took B. to the big playground at the riverside park. He had a great time, and on the way across the parking lot he took both me and his mom by the hand, looked back and forth between the two of us, and said “I happy” [sic]. After a long nap we went to the smaller playground we can walk to. We set out to see diggers, knowing there was construction two blocks away, but they were gone by the time we got there. The playground was to keep him in good spirits.

Later I read a good story, “Train Dreams” by Denis Johnson.

There’s a story by Harlan Ellison about a guy getting to pick one day to relive over and over as a kind of heaven (or hell). Most people pick seismic days: weddings, etc. He picks an ordinary, decent day that is not extraordinary. I might pick this one. Nothing special, but a day I could re-live. Satisfying meals if not special ones. Sunshine and family. A tall glass of lemonade. Playgrounds and a good story.

*

As a college student I wrote a story about Heaven. It has been a topic of interest to me for some time. I don’t believe in Heaven, per se, with the gospel choirs and halos, but I like to imagine the afterlife. In my story, the hero is met by John Lennon (the only person he would follow) and led to his apartment. It turns out everyone in Heaven has to live with their litter, so he finds a pile of cigarette butts in the middle of his living room. He learns that Heaven is inspired by their happiest time on earth. It must have been inspired by the Ellison story*. Anyway, his heaven is the children’s section of the small-town public library he went to as a child, with the same domed reading chairs that looked like something out of Star Trek, and the shelves fully stocked with all the books he remembered. He opens one and starts reading.

I thought of that story just recently, because I am once again driven by urges to find the books I grew up reading. I have talked about a few of them before, but mentioning Pinkwater and Byars as influences might obscure the most important thing about my formative literary years, which is that I read everything. I wasn’t a kid who liked this-or-that kind of book; I read them all. I read the mysteries, the comic books, the heartbreakers and rib-ticklers. I read sci fi and historical and fantasy and biographies. I even read pre-teen romances, trying to hide them under biographies of baseball players so the librarian wouldn’t notice. I was a true omnivore.

Today I went to the Minneapolis Central library in search of a long-forgotten book about a pigeon lost in New York. I didn’t remember the title or author and searched for it futilely, finally finding a suggestion on WhatsThatBook.com. I saw that the library had one copy in the stacks. What are the stacks? A big, locked room of tall shelves, so close together that they are on motorized tracks. I’d been to the Central Library before but didn’t know about those stacks, which have thousands and thousands of books that are still in circulation but not on the main shelves. And there were all the books I ever read as a kid — many I’d forgotten about. I didn’t have much time so I got the one book (it was the right one) and a few others, but I will be back. I could spend a year just reading and remembering.

*If  anybody knows what this story is, please leave the title in the comments.

One thought on “Two Kinds of Heaven

  1. I was the opposite–the kid who was pretty picky. I know I would bring books home, because of their title or something on the cover, and then not even open them–going back to the books I’d love and was happy/comfortable with. Still, I was a big reader, and I’ve definitely gone back and reread things from my past–coming across them by surprise in a used bookstore or hunting them down in libraries, like you. I saw you mention Danny Dunn somewhere, I now own them all (for the first time–I think they were my older sister’s when we were growing up), collecting them when my son was younger and just loving the science, the humor, and the fact that Irene was both smart and brave. I have reread and reread Phyllis A. Whitney’s teen mysteries, the books that made me realize I wanted to be what she was–a writer. There is such magic in the books that made us fall in love with reading, or that were at least there when we were doing that falling in love.

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