It Began with a Tomato Sandwich
by Pete Haynes


Today was going to be a hot one, alright. The cool of the morning was already past, when they sat for lunch. He had spent most of the forenoon weeding the garden, an endless task. The clothes on the line were evidence of her work, as was the meal in front of them.

Eating lunch together was something he had enjoyed ever since he retired from the factory. Gone were the days of eating out of a box, surrounded by a bunch of sweaty men. To sit and eat with his wife of many years - that was satisfaction, whether it was at home or at a restaurant.

Today she spread a delicious meal on the table, making all that gardening worthwhile. "Dear Lord," he prayed as they held hands, "thank you for everything you've given us. Bless this food and the hands that prepared it. Amen."

"George," she said as he was biting into his tomato sandwich, "you remember that I have an eye doctor's appointment this afternoon, don't you?"

"Un-huh," he nodded trying not to be too messy.

"Are you going to go with me, or are you staying at home?"

"Nogh," he said with another bite in his mouth.

"What did you say? I wish you wouldn't talk with your mouth full."

He quickly swallowed and said, "Well, why don't you stop asking me questions when it's full... No, I've got some things yet to do here - you go ahead."

"OK," she said, "I'll probably do some shopping afterward." They went on eating.

After a while she spoke up, "your sister called this morning, wanted to know how you were."

"Why didn't you call me in? I haven't talked with Janet in a long time."

"She wanted to talk to me, that's why. It's through me that she hears about you, anyway - when was the last time you called or talked to her?"

"I dunnoh," he said with another mouthful.

"Well, she was talking about what they just up and did. Jim and her had been thinking about doing it for a long while. The other day they sat with their lawyer and brought their Will up to date. Then they met with their minister to discuss some things."

"What things?"

"Well, you know, planning for the future, talking about such things as - what they'd do if one of them got sick or even died. What they'd like to see happen if they couldn't care for one another anymore. What they'd like as far as a funeral."

"Is something wrong?," he asked after a quick swallow, "something we didn't know about?"

"No, no, no, nothing like that. They just wanted to work through some things. Jim always was the type to do things early."

"You're right, he's the only one I ever knew of who has his tax forms done in December."

"O George, he does not. Just because you always wait to the last minute..."

"I always have 'em done by April 14th."

"Exactly. I think they are doing the right thing. Maybe we might get some of our future talked out. Our Will hasn't been updated since the kids were babies. We're getting to the age when we should be talking about some of them things."

"I'm not going to dig my own grave!," he said loudly, surprised by the note of anger in his own voice. "I don't want to talk about it. Life is too short as it is, to be talking as if one foot is already in the grave."

"OK," she replied, "I don't agree with you, but..." They ate the rest of the meal in silence.

After she was gone, he cleaned up the dishes and went back out to the garden. Soon he was lost in thought. He knew she was right. She usually was. God probably created women to make sure men knew it when they made a mistake. Yes, she was right, but something within him didn't want to admit it.

He had thought a great deal about the road that lay ahead. He worried about how she'd get by if he needed nursing care, or if he should be the first to go. He worried about the children and the grandchildren. He worried a lot. He just never let on.

As he was thinking, he came upon some pretty sturdy weeds. Bending over to pull them up, he felt a pain in his chest. When he straightened up it didn't go away. For the first time he noticed how hot it was outside, and how much he was sweating. Very slowly he walked out of the garden and over to the chair under the tree. He sat to catch his breath. "Dear Lord," he prayed, "I guess I'm ready now, but I am afraid."

After a while he began to breathe a little easier. His pounding heart subsided. In the shade of the tree his world slowly settled down. Gradually, his mind took over. He had felt those pains before. They sometimes came with the first tomatoes of the season.

Last year it was Martha's spaghetti. What a relief! He laughed at himself. "Dear Lord," he prayed, "did you enjoy that one?" God must have a sense of humor, he always believed. After all, he created man, and then tickled man's rib and came up with woman. The garden of Eden must have been a place where the three of them could laugh together.

As his heartburn began to lessen, George's thoughts returned to the future; not just up to his death, but beyond. Long ago, he had placed his life, past, present and future, into the hands of Jesus. But he hadn't thought much about heaven and what it would be like. Not that he hadn't heard many people talk about it.

Grammaw always used to speak of the pearly gates and the streets paved with gold. Grandpap was always big on the "Book of Life" with the names of the redeemed listed there. "Georgie boy," he'd say, "make sure your name is in the book." The day he was baptized, he remembered looking up at Grandpap on the bank, grinning from ear to ear...

For Mother, it was the river flowing by God's throne that spoke to her of heaven. She'd been raised on the banks of the Susquehanna. She used to get all misty-eyed whenever they sang "shall we gather at the river."

He remembered one preacher talking about a great meeting in the sky when all the world would gather to worship God for eternity. "Some folks wouldn't last very long," he thought. They stomp the bit if worship goes over an hour. Course, hopefully the preaching would be a little better.

Imagine the music. A great classical tune on a huge pipe organ, followed by a gospel hymn on a little Hammond. And singing -he could just see the chorister standing and saying, "We will start with #1 in the Baptist Hymnal and sing every song in the book." All the Baptists would cheer. "And then we will move to the Lutheran hymnal, followed by the Methodist. After then we'll go through the Disciples, Presbyterian, and Brethren hymnals."

"Wouldn't that be just like God?," he thought. "Of course, since I can't sing, it could be a long song-fest."

All these images of heaven flowed through his mind as he sat there under the tree. He hadn't thought about it for years - really thought about it, that is. None of these images could fully capture what the life to come will be like. "Surprise us, God," he prayed. "We ... I have enough prejudices and preferences that will need to be washed away before entering the kingdom."

In the twinkling of an eye something altogether new will happen. He wasn't sure of what it might look or be like, this resurrection of the body, this eternal life, but he was sure of the One who took away the sting of death. It was a good thought for a hot afternoon.

"Dear Lord," he prayed, "when you resurrect the body, would you make sure to include a funny bone?"

As if on cue, Martha's voice sounded from the back door, "George, guess who stopped by for a surprise visit. It's Jim and Janet. They want to talk to you, this time."

"Jim always was an early bird," he thought, as he got out of his chair and walked in to greet them.

1996Peter L. Haynes

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