Better Than Okay

The air inside the barn was cool under the shade. Outside, the sun was warm, and you couldn’t have ordered up a sky with anymore blue in it if you tried. Gabe and Toby, his grandson, were piddling with an old lawn mower. The boy was his helper, which is exactly the way Gabe liked it.

The old man could tell that his grandson had something on his mind. Whenever the boy chewed on his lower lip, that meant that he was thinking. And for about the last thirty minutes he’d been chewing his lip like it was a stick of Bazooka bubble gum.

“What you thinking about so hard?”

Without missing a beat, the boy said, “Heaven.”

“Well, that’s a mighty big subject for a young mind.”

“I reckon. But I got a question.”

Gabe cleaned on a spark plug with a small piece of grit paper while Toby sat cross-legged on the old wooden floor. He knew exactly why Toby was thinking about heaven. They had just gotten word this morning that their old preacher and dear friend had passed away in the night.

The boy propped his elbow on one knee and cupped his chin in his hand. “Do you suppose there’s real streets of gold up there?”

Gabe knew his Bible about as well as any of the deacons down at the church. But he was no scholar. He knew about cows and beans and corn better than he knew about the things his grandson was asking.

“I’ve wondered that myself,” he said. “But what I really think is that the Good Lord is trying to tell us how beautiful it is up there. Gold is shinny and precious. It’s about the most beautiful of all the precious stones.”

“I guess so.”

“So, I think the streets in heaven are beautiful. Whatever they’re made of, they’re more beautiful than anything we’ve ever seen with our own eyes.”

“More beautiful than Watson’s Glenn down by the lake?” His favorite fishing hole was to him the most beautiful place he’d ever seen.

“Yes sir. More beautiful even than that.”

The boy swung his legs around and leaned back against a feed sack propped against the wall just inside the open doorway. Knees drawn up.

“You reckon there’s fishing in heaven?” Toby and Preacher Wayne had been fishing many times with his grandpa down at Watson’s Glenn.

“I don’t see why there wouldn’t be. Jesus himself did a little fishing while he was here. Some of his best pals were fishermen. I bet there’s a hundred lakes in heaven.”

“I bet there’s a million of them.”

“Yes sir. Bass as big as your arm and Blue Gill so fat you can’t fit but one in a frying pan.”

Toby was sad to know his friend had died. This was his first real experience with death. He’d heard about heaven, and he had heard that Mr. Wayne had gone there in the night.


“Yes sir.”

“Do you suppose there’s a special place in heaven for preachers?”

Gabe was quiet for a few minutes. The boy’s questions were getting to be a little bit theologically challenging for a fella used to sitting on the back row at church.

“Do ya?”

Gabe took his best shot. “Naw. I reckon not, son. The way I figure it, God loves all his children the same. Preacher or farmer, it don’t make no difference to God as long as you belong to Him.”

Toby was chewing on his lip again.

“Now, that don’t mean that heaven’s not a special place. I bet right now heaven is about the busiest place you could imagine. Old Michael is shouting out orders left and right.”

“What for?”

“Mr. Wayne’s arrival, of course.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s a big deal when one of God’s own sets foot in heaven for the first time. You remember when we surprised your grandma for her birthday. We rented the VFW and put up balloons and had cake and music and dancing and more friends than you could count?”

“Yes sir.”

“And you remember how everybody was hustling around laying out the food and fixing the tea and making sure we had enough chairs. Your mom and dad were busy making a fuss over every little detail, trying to make everything just right. That place was just about as busy as a beehive.”

Toby remembered everything. “And Uncle George and Uncle Henry were tuning up their guitars and fiddle.”

“That’s right,” Gabe said. “Then, just before your grandma got there, we all got real quiet. You could’a heard a feather drop. We wanted to surprise your grandma.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. And when she walked through the door we all shouted and the whole place went crazy.”

“That’s it,” Gabe said. “That’s what’s going on in heaven right now.”

“You mean a birthday party?”

“No sir. A homecoming party for Mr. Wayne. The biggest party you’ve ever seen. God himself is sitting at the head table. And as soon as Mr. Wayne set foot in heaven last night, the whole place errupted in applause like thunder.”

“Did they play music? Did they sing ‘Over in Glory Land’?”

“I bet there were a few “glory hallelujahs”. I mean, it is heaven. But I also bet old Doc and Merle Watson picked a tune. Maybe ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken’. Preacher Wayne loved a good guitar.”

“You reckon Mr. Wayne danced?”

“Hmm.” Gabe leaned in and spoke softly. “Being Baptist and all, if you promise to keep this between me and you, I’d say he’s dancing a jig right now.”

Gabe started patting his leg and tapping his toe. Little Toby stood up and started keeping the rhythm with his feet. Dust fairies were dancing in the sunlight coming through the doorway. It was the first time Toby had laughed since he heard the news.

“Hand me that Phillips-head, will ya?” Gabe was nearly out of breath watching Toby dance. The boy grabbed the screwdriver off the bench and handed it to his grandpa.

“I always thought heaven was a sad place.”

“Why would you think that?”

“Cause.” Toby was chewing his lip again. “Everybody always cries at a funeral.”

The boy is putting Gabe’s doctrinal theories to the test.

“I know. It hurts to lose somebody you love. But the tears are for us, not for the person going to heaven. Neither one of us likes the idea of life without Preacher Wayne. So, of course, we shed some tears.”

“It doesn’t seem fair,” Toby said.

“What’s fair is that heaven is a better place than this. We aren’t meant to stay in this world forever. My time is gonna come one of these days and when it does, I can tell you right now, there’ll be no need to weep for me.”

Gabe paused for a moment. Maybe that was too much for the boy.

“So, no crying?”

“That’s right.”

“Big party?”

“You betcha.”

“Heaven sounds a lot better the way you tell it grandpa.”

Toby stood in the doorway. “So, Mr. Wayne is okay?”

“I promise you son, he’s better than okay.”

In Memory of

R. Wayne Hollaway

You made it home.

3 thoughts on “Better Than Okay

  1. Great story Paul, I think some of your early mountain years are shining through. What a day that will be…. Wayne will be greatly missed but glad he is home enjoying his reward.


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