The Size of Heaven

by nicolecallihan

When I think of heaven, I think of Mama Heaton. I don’t know where anybody else goes when they die, but when I close my eyes and picture it: it’s just her, taking up the whole sky, her skirt pulling at her knees and her lap full of string bean strings.

Today in yoga we had to hold our arms up in a V for eleven minutes. I was almost sure I would die, and of course I will, but I kept thinking I will die of holding my arms in the air, and then I started begging. Okay, Mama Heaton, I begged, please, please hold my arms up for me. I’ll do all the dishes and fill up your ice water and I won’t talk smart. I’ll just be really nice to everybody, be pretty is as pretty does and say yes ma’am and no ma’am, and please Mama Heaton, please, please with sugar on top, I’ll never ask you for anything else, please. And then the eleven minutes were up.

If she were alive, today she would celebrate what I can only imagone would be her thousandth birthday. In 1983, I took a bus with her from Hickory, North Carolina to Rapid City, South Dakota; it was a long bus ride. In 1987, we all went to a Shogun in southern Virginia for her birthday. In 1973, she wore black to my parents’ wedding.

I can’t believe she’s been dead for almost twenty years. I can still remember feeling the heat from her leg when we’d sit all summer night at the tent revival. In yoga, when we close our eyes in meditation, the dark I see is the Price-is-Right glow of her room.

Memory can be vexing. With Mama Heaton it is so large and bodily that it almost overwhelms me. It strikes me now that I can’t remember the sound of her voice; it’s as if the voice was too disembodied to last. I can, though, remember her smell, and I remember it so completely that sitting here, all these miles and years later, my throat closes, like she’s right here, lifting my fingers one by one. Please Mama Heaton, I say, just let me write today, just one more sentence, Mama Heaton, just one more phrase.