On special occasions, when we were quite young, my two brothers and I would stay at Grandpa and Grandma’s house. They lived on a farm fifteen miles from our cattle ranch in Montana. We liked staying over night there. First of all, Grandma would generally spoil us with some of her homemade cinnamon rolls. Hers made the modern Cinnabon roll (that you find in many American airports and malls) look and taste like two-day-old dry toast. The syrupy brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter mixture made the rolls almost drinkable. But even outweighing the sugar high, our favorite occasion at Grandma’s house was bedtime, which always dumbfounded our parents. That’s when Grandma would tell us stories. She was a storyteller with few equals. She held us spellbound as she made up her fascinating tales. Plus, she routinely scared us out of our wits. Part of the intrigue was the very fact that we knew it was coming. My brothers and I would all be tucked in one big bed with a heavy, homemade, hand-sewn blanket over us. We would be peering out at Grandma, sitting in her rocking chair beside the bed. A winter storm would be blowing outside. The windows would be slightly rattling. Inside a dim light was on. And Grandma would tell one of her ghost stories to three heads peering out of the top of the quilt. Three pairs of hands were holding the blanket up to cover our three defenseless necks, as if the quilt was some sort of magic protection of the vulnerable parts against the ghosts that were soon to jump right out of Grandma’s story and into the bed. Which they always did.
After the climatic conclusion of each of Grandma’s stories, she would get up from her squeaky rocking chair and lead us in the prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” Never was a child’s prayer so sincere. Grandma would then kiss us good night, turn out the dim light, and say, “Sweet dreams. Have a nice sleep.” Sweet dreams? Nice sleep? Are you kidding me? We were terrified. To Grandma the stories were pure fiction, not real at all, merely entertainment for three dear grandchildren whom she loved very much. To the three darling grandchildren the stories were real, the characters were real, the settings were real, and the plots were real. For us, Grandma’s ghosts were just as real as Grandma’s God. And her cinnamon rolls. To this day I sometimes find myself tacitly vacillating between the reality of those three wide-eyed boys and God’s.