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Preacher’s kid that I am, I haven’t believed in a god, let alone any kind of heaven, since I was 11 years old.  Nor did I believe in my Grandma Davis, who definitely did believe in everything her Southern Baptist upbringing taught her.  Child of the north that I was, I believed my Grandma Davis was the worst of both worlds:  an utterly humorless and relentlessly austere New England school marm who was convinced that black people didn’t deserve equality unless they talked and acted exactly like white people.  We argued repeatedly about everything from civil rights to religion.

But the night she died, I had a dream.  I was in San Diego, of all strange places.  I was alone and trapped among a huge throng of people.  Then, apparently on a side street that rose above the crowd (though San Diego is flat), I spotted a woman in a cheesy fake leopard-skin pillbox hat, set at a rakish angle.  Imagine my surprise when I figured out that, rather than the corner hooker, this was Grandma Davis, and she winked at me.  (I could have sworn that she didn’t know how to wink.)

Suddenly the scene changed and there I was in some ridiculous cliche with impossibly blue skies, cotton-ball clouds, birds chirping furiously and a bunch of old people in white robes flying around on huge wings while they blew trumpets and strummed harps.  I looked down.  Yup, there were my feet firmly planted in the middle of the intersection of two streets that were absolutely, positively paved with gold.  I looked across one of the streets.  There was Grandma Davis, impish look of a triumphant but mischievous child smeared all over her face as she put her hands on her hips and announced, “I told ya so!”

I woke up laughing.  In the shadowy vestiges of my sleep, I thought I heard my father, the preacher, deliver the final line of what had all been a sermon of his about redemption.  And I smiled again and again that day, feeling that my Grandma Davis was, at last, free.

Since then I’ve allowed myself to hope…because it would be so deliciously charming and ironic…that when I die I actually do find myself with a smug and thoroughly vindicated Grandma Davis at the intersection of two streets paved with gold.

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