Sunday, February 22, 2009
Pennies from Grandma
I was amazed.
Had someone broken out their old collection? But, this was no collector’s specimen.
It was well worn and a bit corroded. I began to think about a penny’s life span.
How many were in circulation? How many were pulled out regularly and melted down?
I wonder if pennies aren’t like seeds blowing in the wind- out of a million, surely one will survive and take hold.
Anyway, I began to think of pennies. And when I see a penny, a discarded and old penny for that matter, I always think of Grandma.
My point here? I really don’t know. But, it has to do with what we hold onto and how we let go. It has to do with love, and love gone wrong, and love curving round to heal.
It brings to mind an essay I wrote, long ago now, entitled, Pennies from Grandma.
The clip the magazine highlighted declares:
They told me that her blood was too thick for her heart to pump, and I wondered how it was that someone stayed alive so long after nothing’s left. I’d seen bugs crushed and gone so quickly. I couldn’t decide if life was fragile or tenacious beyond belief.
I’m still wrestling with these concepts. So I thought I’d share a bit more of the essay here.
I’ve been passing pennies on the sidewalk. There seem to be a lot, as if I’m not the only one who doesn’t bother anymore to lean down and pick them up. After all, what good’s a penny anymore? It’s enough to buy a memory. Every time I see one I think of Grandma Bralley. I see the two of us in 1954. She has me by the hand, for I am only four, and we are walking down the street in Bristol, a town all brick and iron-stained industrial cement.
We were on our way to the Delaware, to watch that oily river flow by, when Grandma saw the penny. It seemed to take her forever, and I held my breath, as she leaned over all arthritic to retrieve that penny off the street. When she finally had it, she held it out proudly for me to see, “Now, that’s a lucky penny!” The idea truly impressed me.
It’s a young girl’s first memory, those visits to Grandma’s. I think she liked me then. It was later that I grew too loud and impulsive, so that when I entered a room Grandma would jump and snap at me, “Be still.” I made her nervous. I don’t recall ever doing much of anything right for her except one time when I was about ten. Realizing she was very old, I spent the afternoon sitting on the sofa with her, holding her hand in mine, pushing her thick blue veins back and forth under the skin like spaghetti on a plate. I wanted her to tell me all about what it had been like when she was a girl. I looked into her eyes and saw they were so blue. I told her they were beautiful and suddenly, eighty-three years old, she sat up like a ramrod and burst into a smile. “The boys used to tell me that.” I’d never thought of Grandma and boys. I had never seen, nor would I ever see again, such a spark in her.
Later, that night, my father came to my room. Grandma had told him I had been nice. I was about to say how happy I was. Grandma’s stories had been wonderful. She’d told me things no one else knew. But Pop saw something else. “Here, you earned this dollar.” I liked the money, but it made me feel strange, being paid like that. Everything, like love, got turned askew…
I could hardly wait to tell my sister that Grandma had died. It seemed like such a news flash. She replied with a big grin, “She did?” and at the funeral we started laughing. It was terrible – my father next to me, head bowed, his hands trembling. And I was laughing out of control. I would just about burst with trying not to, but every time I got myself quieted I’d feel the pew shake, and knew my sister was down the line doing the same thing… I remember Grandma’s funeral as the torture of this laughter, and the curious inability to comprehend that she was really up there in that coffin…
Soon the dreams started. I saw Grandma old and we both cried. But in a while she was happier and we would talk. After a few months I didn’t really consider them dreams anymore. They were more like visits while I was asleep. She was getting younger, strong and happy. We enjoyed each other and I’d wake up feeling good. Then the dreams stopped. I figured she had gone off on her own.
Extracted from The Sun, issue 130, September, 1986.