Dead People, Sparkle Fairies, and Hitler

“Oma, there’s dead people under those rocks, you know.”
I glance over my shoulder to see what Satchel is talking about. My four-year-old grandson is commenting from his car seat about the small cemetery to our left on East Napa.
Satchel Sevenau“I know Satchel, that’s where they put our bodies when we die.”
“What do they do with the heads?” he asks.
“Well, when we die we don’t need our bodies anymore,” elaborating with a spiritual conversation about bodies and souls and death.
When I finish, he says, “Yeah, but what do they do with the heads?”
As I attempt to expound further, he interrupts and announces, “Oma! The car is filled with sparkle fairies!”
I’m wearing a Brazilian rhinestone bracelet that my sister Liz gave me, and the sun is bouncing off the facets, casting the car’s interior with hundreds of tiny brilliant refractions.
He asks in wonder, “Can you see them?”
“I can, Satchel, that I can.”
Then he tilts his head forward and says, “Oma, can you see the Apple Fairy on the top of my head?”
I peer in the rearview mirror, slip into his world of magic, and tell him, “Of course. How long has she been there?”
“About a week!”
“A week! That’s amazing. You are certainly a lucky boy, Satchel.”

Days later, when I was telling my friend Elaina the cemetery story, I hadn’t understood his question until she laughed and said, “Well, you told him what they did with the bodies. He wanted to know what they did with the heads.”
I haven’t gotten back to him on that one.


My son Matt took Satchel to Mountain Cemetery on Veterans Day to honor Satchel’s deceased great-grandfather Calvin Frost, and dropped him off afterward to spend the day with me.
In great excitement, Satchel bursts through the front door. “Oma! Oma! Did you know that Grandpa Cal fought in the war and won all the battles and at the end of the war he killed Hitler?”
“Do tell. I think you got most of the story right.”
“What?” he asks, stopping short.
“Well, Grandpa Cal did fight in the war, and he may have won all the battles, but at the end of the war he didn’t kill Hitler.”
“Who did?”
“Hitler was the leader of Germany and a very bad man. When the Allied Forces invaded his country, he knew he’d lost the war and would be taken prisoner, so he killed himself.”
“Oh.” He lets this sink in, then asks, “Do you have any pictures of Hitler?”
“Not hanging on my walls, but I suppose we could find what he looks like on the computer.”
After some time on the Internet, he’s satisfied and says, “Oma, you were right. Hitler was a very bad man.” He thinks a bit, then says, “Do we have any bad men in the family?”
“No, but we have someone in the family who was killed by a bad man.”
“Harry Tracy was a very bad man in the wild west, and he shot Valentine Hoy, my great-grandmother’s brother.”
“Do you have any pictures of him?”
“Well, as a matter of fact, I do.” I pull out my book of Hoy history and show Satchel the pictures of Harry and Valentine.
He asks, leafing through it, “Oma, what is this?”
“It’s a book Uncle Gordon and I put together about our family history. This one is on my mother’s side of the family, and it’s about her, and her parents, and their parents, and all of their families on our Hoy side, from the time they left Germany to come to this country.”
“Is my mom’s family in here?”
“No,” I say, “it’s your dad’s side of the family.”
He turns the pages, interested in everything.
“Would you like a copy of it when you grow up?” I ask him.
“I would,” he says, oh so very earnestly.
“I knew I liked you,” and kiss the top of his head.

The next day I get a call from his father. “Is there any particular reason you’re having a conversation with my son about Hitler?”
To that I respond, “Hey, you’re the one that opened it up. I didn’t bring him to the cemetery, you did. I was simply answering his questions.”


As I’m getting lunch together, Satchel is on my kitchen floor with both legs encircling my ankle, his arms around my calf. When I try to walk away, he hangs on, hoping for a ride. I’m wearing black cowboy boots.
I lose my balance and bark, “Watch out! If I come down on you with my heel, you won’t be having any children.”
“What do you mean I won’t be having any children?”
“If I crush your cojones, you won’t be able to have kids.”
“What do you mean, I won’t be able to have kids?”
Ohmygod. I’ve had the death conversation. I’ve had the Hitler conversation. And now I’m heading into the sex conversation with a four-year-old?
I stutter and stammer. “It’s just, well, it’s just, it’s just, it’s just a…,” grasping for words.
He saves me: “Oh, you mean, it’s just a saying?”
“Exactly, it’s just a saying.” I exhale with relief. It’s not like I’ve already been in enough trouble this month answering this kid’s questions.

Catherine Sevenau

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  1. Great story. You have a special grandson and he has a special Oma.

  2. Your inter generational conversations—with the shadow of a parent in the wings—are brilliant. Too bad all of the Hitler story wasn’t true. But it sounds like he handled the truth well.

  3. Susan Dalberg says

    Always good for my daily chuckle. Thanks, Catherine!

  4. Pat Brown says

    I love reading your stories !

  5. Jeff Elliot says

    I’ve finally transitioned to full honesty about those subjects (and drugs, and rock and roll) with my 20 year old daughter. If I manage to survive long enough for grandkids, I doubt that I’ll be able to remember how to do kid appropriate conversation! Seems to me you’re doing great.

  6. Hahaha. I feel like I’m right there with you when you are having these conversations. After having the three grandkids all week I can relate and empathize. Never stop writing Catherine.