IN MY COUSIN'S HOUSE
by Rabbi Ben Avraham
My cousin John lived in a nice, quiet suburb in Flushing, N.Y. His house, or rather my aunt and uncle's house was, to me, neither small, nor big, rather medium size, as seen in the eyes of a child back in the early and mid 1960s.
It lay nestled in a nice, little neighborhood, amidst other houses on a neat and quiet street, lined with trees and green lawns. There was a park nearby where I remember my grandpa took me once to swing on one of the many swing sets, and afterward, he put me on a slide and caught me as I slid down.
So my aunt Nina and uncle Ces, my cousins John, Gene, and Anita lived peacefully there for many years. Of my three cousins, I related more to John since we were almost the same age, John being one year older than me.
My mom, dad, and I used to visit uncle Ces and aunt Nina during the Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas holidays. We would drive down to Flushing from upstate N.Y. in our 1960 red “Studebaker” called “the red Lark”. I would stretch out in the back seat and try to take a small “siesta” while hearing dad mention words like; “Taconic State Parkway”, “Ossining”, “Nyack”, etc...
About two hours later we would arrive at Uncle Ces and Aunt Nina's house. There was a front entrance on an elevated stone patio which opened up to a coat closet on the left-hand side. In front was the living room with a few items of furniture; a sofa, an ornament shelf where uncle Ces kept his reel-to-reel tape recorder, and a piano. But for some reason, we always used the kitchen entrance. I guess the kitchen entrance was closer to where we parked the car.
In front of the kitchen entrance were my aunt Nina's house plants, and then...the aroma of an oven baked turkey would greet us together with my aunt's “Happy Thanksgiving” or whatever the holiday at hand. The kitchen led into a very small dining room which had some small pictures of snow-capped mountains in Chile hanging on the wall. There was also a wooden décore piece with the words, “The Dog House” and the names of my cousins on little pieces of wood. I remember the words on the plaque; “To stay out of the doghouse, obey the rules, to get into the doghouse, try some shenanigans”.
The kitchen led to a short hallway with a guest bathroom to the left. I remember a little ceramic cat on top of the toilet with a pull-out tail made of some perfumed fabric to keep the bathroom always smelling sweet and fresh.
Around the corner from the bathroom led to the basement. This was a place of enjoyment and relaxation, where the family and guests would go for a bit of “chitter-chatter” and TV watching. When you went down the stairs, your shoes would echo a hollow “clack-clack-clacking sound. The bottom of the staircase ended in front of a corner shelf with grandpa's globe-lamp on top.
With a flick on the wall switch, the globe lamp would light up with a soft glow, illuminating the oceans and the continents of the world. The rest of the basement consisted of John's race-track table with little electric racing cars on a track. There were two lean-back easy chairs in front of console TV set. Usually on the arm of one of the chairs rested a TV guide clipped onto a small clip-board.
Uncle Ces had his work area in the back of the basement with all sorts of tools and gizmos. There was a bar with all kinds of drinks, and souvenirs from foreign countries hung from the top of the bar ceiling, even a shrunken head (fake of course).
Near the bar, on the basement wall hung a black and white ink drawing of Uncle Ces, sitting on top of the world cross-legged, holding about twenty different foreign flags, places that he had visited. These were in memory of Ces having worked for many years at IBM World Trade Corp.
During the holidays seasons the basement saw many guests sitting in front of the console TV
set, watching football games, or a bullfight or two from Mexico. Uncle Ces especially liked the bull fights, since he was from Venezuela. Once he told me that as a kid, he had fought a young bull in an arena near Caracas.
John's room was near the guest bathroom. There were two beds, a dresser-drawer, and a clothing closet. On the bedroom door he had hung a funny picture of a UFO taking off and a little alien running after it yelling, “wait for me!”. On top of his dresser were many little army soldiers all lined up with a sign on the wall that read; “watch out!”
Another thing that made an impact on me in John's room was a little “glow-in-the-dark” Jesus on a cross which hung over the head of his bed. I thought that perhaps this crucifix had some special powers because of what he said once when I slept over. One thing I'd like to make clear is that our families were religiously different. Uncle Ces and aunt Nina and my cousins were Catholics, while my adoptive family who raised me were Lutherans. I followed the way, of course, of my adoptive family since that was all I knew. This was many years before the Jewishness inside me, which I inherited from my biological father's ancestry, awakened inside me.
During one of the holidays, Uncle Ces and aunt Nina invited us to sleep over. Mom and dad were in the guest room, and I got to sleep in John's room. I was perhaps seven or eight years old at the most, probably in 1962 or 63. Well, that night John and me were laying in opposite beds talking about this and that. He told me how his friends were pestering the “parkie” (the guy in charge of the neighborhood park) when he paused for a few seconds, pointed at his clothes closet and said;
“At midnight, the devil will come out of that closet and try to drag us off to hell unless we take hold of Jesus.”
Then he looked above his bed and pointed to the “glow-in-the-dark” Jesus on the cross. Now my evening was ruined. Fear gripped me, I imagined at the stroke of midnight, the closet filling with smoke and a hideous clawed hand pushing the closet door open. I could just imagine a horned devil in a bright red suit followed by some “imps” jumping on top of me and my cousin. Then they would drag us both, kicking and screaming, into the closet, down the corridor to hell. Somehow, I thought, there was a corridor that connected hell with John's closet.
In a way I felt sorry for John that his closet was a passage way to hell. At home in Chappaqua I also had a clothing closet and the devil never came out of that one to drag me to hell. I remember my dad telling me a little about hell, how bad boys and girls would end up there. Kids that were disobedient to parents and teachers would end up in the devil's hell, together with all the thieves, muggers, thugs, burglars, and killers.
My dad continued to tell me that down in hell, everyone would have to work for the devil, shoveling coal to keep the fires going. I thought about shoveling coal. I decided that it would be harder than shoveling snow off the driveway in winter time, and it would be a lot hotter too. I decided that shoveling coal would not work for me.
Poor John, I thought, The reason he is still here is because he is still awake at midnight. At midnight, he would grab hold of the crucifix and foil the devil. I could hardy imagine if he were to be asleep at midnight. The devil would grab him and drag him off saying;
“too late, too late John, midnight is passed, and you didn't grab Jesus, now you're mine”.
I really hoped that this wouldn't be the case. I wondered if my mom and dad would hear our cries, Ces and Nina too, they would have to hear something I thought. But so far, so good, midnight was a few hours away.
So there we were, John was in his bed and I was in the other bed across the room. There was a little clock on John's dresser. It was 10:00pm, two hours until “devil time”, so close, only two hours until the closet door would open and the devil and his imps would come out and drag both me and John down to the fires of hell. Then me and my cousin would have to shovel coal to keep the hell fires going. That would be one “hell” of a future for both of us, not to mention our parents, who would be worried sick about us, as to where we both were. Well, I thought, John knew what he was going. I mean, he was nine years old, almost all grown up, he would just have to wake up on time before the stroke of midnight, he wouldn't dare oversleep, the fate of both of us was at stake.
I turned over in bed and tried to get some sleep, yet I kept turning back over to look at the clock. I just stared at it, the clock hands kept moving, ever so slowly. I heard the “tick, tick, ticking” of the clock in my mind's eye, echoing in the semi-darkness of John's bedroom.
The minutes ticked by, and the little hand was pointing to the twelve, and now the little hand was on the eleven, five minutes before the closet would fill with smoke, followed by a red-suited red devil with a pointy tail. The suspense was too much, and my cousin didn't seem to be worried too much. I jumped from my bed onto John's bed and I shook him;
“John, John, wake up, it's almost midnight!”
“Oh yeah”, my cousin said, slowly sitting up in bed.
I saw him reach for the 'glow-in-the-dark' Jesus on the cross. He took it down from its hook on the wall. We watched the clock, it was now midnight. We both held on to the crucifix, with John mumbling some prayer. I don't remember exactly which one, probably a Hail Mary. We both held on to the cross for a full minute, looking at the closet. It didn't fill with smoke, nor did the devil make an entrance into my cousin's bedroom to drag us to hell. Now I breathed easier.
“It's OK now” my cousin said, “We can go back to sleep, the devil probably knew we were holding on to Jesus, so he didn't even try to grab us”.
John put the 'glow-in-the-dark Jesus' back on the wall. I climbed back into the other bed and we both had a good night's sleep.
As the years went by, I grew in knowledge and wisdom. The Apostle Paul even wrote that when we were a child, we thought like children, yet when we grow in knowledge, we put away childish things, ideas, thoughts, as we come into spiritual maturity. I learned that there really wasn't a passageway between hell and my cousin's clothing closet. Perhaps my cousin was just jesting all along, and just wanted to have some fun with his younger cousin.
Yet I learned, through God's Word, that there really is a place called hell, a real place made especially for the devil and his fallen angels, and that sinful, unrepentant mankind would join them for all eternity. The Bible describes it as a place of 'wailing and gnashing of teeth, where the worm dieth not and the fire never quenched'. It is a place of eternal separation from God, absent from his eternal love, of eternal separation from one's loved ones, a place of sorrow, of remorse, of past memories of times on earth, lost chances and opportunities of salvation, never to have a “second chance”, since it is “appointed unto man once to die and after this, the judgment”
Grabbing hold of and trusting in a plastic 'glow-in-the-dark' Jesus on a cross will not keep a person from going to hell, neither putting a magnetic Mother-Mary statuette on the dashboard of ones' car will keep a person out of hell. Trusting in icons, statues, holy images, doing good deeds, or in anything material will not keep a person out of hell.
The only thing that will keep a person from going to hell is faith in the LORD Jesus Christ (Yeshua HaMashiach), trusting in his one time only and eternal atonement for sin on the Cross of Calvary. Trusting that He took upon himself ALL of our sins, past, present, and future, taking those sins with him on the tree, giving to us his righteousness, in exchange for our sinfulness. The Bible states that God is not willing that ANYONE should perish, but for ALL to come to repentance and have our fellowship with God restored through Messiah Yeshua.
It makes no difference if a person says; “I don't believe there's a hell!” because God says there is! It is mentioned by different names; the Abyss, Gehenna, Hades, Sheol, the Pit, a place of outer darkness. Hell is a holding place, like a county jail, where unrepentant sinners will wait until God's final judgment, then “Death and Hell were cast into the Lake of Fire” this is the second death (Revelation). But scripture also says, “For God is not willing that anyone perish, that while we were yet sinners, Messiah died for us” (2 Peter 3:9)
Anyone who dies and goes to hell goes there because he or she has chosen to go, because that person has rejected the free gift of salvation which was freely given to all mankind. So all in all, staying out of hell does not depend on touching or holding certain objects or icons, it does depend on holding on to the promise of Messiah Yeshua, Jesus the Christ;
For God so loved the world that he gave his Only Begotten Son, that whosoever that believes in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life!” (John 3:16)