Grandma Leaves Me Coins

When I was a little girl, I used to walk with my grandma around their cozy 1950s neighborhood in Sacramento. She and her neighbor, Betty, would look for coins left on the sun-parched sidewalks. They often boasted of their Big Finds—the one time Grandma found a whole quarter, or that day Betty found three nickels. I, too, wanted to find money on our walks, but alas–I never seemed so lucky.

Then one day, dawdling along in my search, I realized Betty and Grandma had gotten quite some distance ahead of me, and I would have to trot to catch up. That’s when I saw it. They had been going so quickly that they missed what my slow self had found: Not a single, dirty coin, but an entire dollar bill! I had outdone Grandma and Betty’s Big Finds both in one fell swoop. An entire dollar! I was so proud.

I was an adult before it occurred to me that Grandma had planted that money.

When Grandma died last November, this memory came back to me again and again. How much Grandma loved me. How much I missed her. How much I never realized she had done for me, always quietly, without expectation. How much she placed in my path for me to find.

Yesterday as I headed out to walk the dog, I looked down and saw a penny half-buried in the broken asphalt at the corner of our driveway. I walked past it.

Then I walked back.

I stared at the coin for a moment. I thought: “What if every time I find a penny, it’s actually a sign from Grandma, a little token she’s left for me to remind me she still loves me?”

I smiled at my own whimsy. The irrationality of it. Of course pennies are everywhere. People drop them all the time. There’s nothing magical or mysterious about it. It’s just a penny.

Still. I picked it up.

This morning there were coins in my bed. This too is non-miraculous. The kids like to come get in bed with us in the mornings, and often whatever is in their pockets falls out into the sheets. Still. I picked up the coins and set them with the one from the driveway. I carried one of them with me into the bathroom and set it on the counter while I showered. No particular reason. I don’t even think I realized I was doing it.

After my shower, I stood in front of the mirror and combed out my red hair, staring in the mirror at my freckled face. An image of those coins rose into my consciousness unbidden. What if… what if… No. No, not what if.

“What if” is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if Grandma is literally looking down on me, looking out for me… or not. It doesn’t really matter.

Because it *is* Grandma who places those coins for me, still. This is True.

It’s true because one day, when I was a little girl, she placed a dollar for me and, along with that dollar bill she placed the knowledge that I am Loved. She created a reality in which every time I see a penny on a sidewalk I think of her, and I think of how much she did for me. And remember that I am worth it to her.

I will never hold Grandma’s soft dry hand again. I will never see her tiny little feet on their tidy little stool, or eat eggs and bacon and toast made by her skillful hands. I will never feel that thrill of excitement upon seeing a present under the tree “from Grandma” (she always gave the best gifts).

Nevertheless, Grandma is very, very Here.

This morning I stood in the bathroom staring at my reflection, and it hit me how much of her I carry with me. She is in my genes, in my freckles, in my blue eyes, in my sense of humor, in the yearning of my heart to see others cared for. She is in my consciousness, in every memory she left for me.

One of the things that is hardest to recover from after the death of a loved one is the realization that there will be no new memories. That every day after the death is another separation, another stretch of time that is no longer shared. Shortly after Grandma’s death I strove to soothe myself by digging through memorabilia looking for photos of her, something I might have missed or mis-remembered. Something new. A new memory to share with her.

Today I realized that Grandma makes new memories with me every day, even now, still. I have not lost her just because she died. Every time I reach down to pick up a penny it is a new memory I share with her.

Standing there in the bathroom, I spotted the coin I had left on the counter. I picked it up and cupped it in my hands, an ordinary object transformed into something rich and strange. I closed my hand around it and held it to my chest. Life continues after death. This is my proof.

So don’t be surprised at my enthusiasm each time I find a coin on the sidewalk. Of course I’m excited. It’s a present from my Grandma.

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“No sun outlasts its sunset, but will rise again and bring the dawn.” ~Maya Angelou

P.S. This entry is partly in honor of my grandma, and partly in honor of Maya Angelou, who died today. Both were great lights to the world.

Who or What Made You a Writer

I’ve been rather out of it this week. Some sort of stomach bug or something and today the Headache. I’m so far behind at work I can’t even remember what it’s like to be caught up. That’s pretty normal though. Somehow everything seems to get done despite me.

Meanwhile, I’m doing what I always do when I’m overwhelmed. Procrastinating. Wait, no. I’m building my network. It’s important that I engage with the writing community. It’s part of my job. Yes. So I’ve been over at Absolute Write, reading threads and “engaging with the writing community”–you know, working. Working hard. (Look me up, I’m there under my real name. It’s Heather Head).

Anyway, today someone asked “Who or what made you a writer?” I expect it will become a popular thread. It’s a great question, and I wanted to share my answer here. Oh, by the way, I’m more than halfway through first-round revisions on my book. Yippee. Is that a light at the end of the tunnel? Probably not, but even a mirage can be motivating. Here we go.

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Who or What Made You a Writer?

Maybe it was Grandma, Grandma shouting out that motor-home window. Probably not, though. Even if I had died, even if I had walked straight out into the road that blistery sunny morning in California, across Hwy 49 and in front of that family on their way to Yosemite driving way too fast, my nose in a book for one-more-chapter-before-school–even if I had, as I say, died that day, I still would have been a writer.

I don’t remember learning to write. Or spell. Words just always made sense to me. I remember acing my older brother’s spelling quizzes right there in front of him, my mom reading off the questions, she hushing me with that sideways frown as he stumbled over the simple words that appeared so clearly in my mind. No wonder he hated me. Maybe he made me a writer, torturing my pet ants in front of me just for fun, luring me into dangerous games with the promise of friendship that never materialized, taunting me in his quiet voice, “You don’t even know how to spell the F word, do you?” until I did, loudly, right there in the back of the car so that my parents had no choice but to punish me.

But probably not. Certainly not. Not him.

Mom or Dad, too cliched. Mom kept all my scraps, my childish attempts, in a brown paper bag now ripped and spilling its contents across my basement floor, “They’ll be important when you’re famous.” She chronicled me, but didn’t make me–not in that sense, anyway.

Maybe it was Mr. McGuiness, first grade teacher, who patiently woke me from my reading trance by touching my shoulder when it was time to move on, un-annoyed by the difficulty of gaining my attention once I was down the rabbit hole of a book. Maybe it was Mrs. McDougal, 2nd year (6th grade) teacher at St. Felix Middle School, Newmarket, England who assigned us a novel to write, and awarded mine first place against my protestations that it wasn’t fair. I was practically a professional, I thought, where was the sportsmanship in that, against a bunch of school children? It was her fault that I spent so many afternoons curled in a corner honing my story, adding chapter after chapter, drawing maps and illustrations. Or it could have been Mrs. Dodd, JD High School (won’t name it here fully for fear any piece of respect attached to me might rub off on it but Mrs. Dodd she was worth a few days in that hell anyway), who taught me to write in paragraphs, or Dr. Deal’s cigarettes and greasy hair, those creakily opening doors in my mind, the shoes thrown out the window, Paradise Lost and my first-ever C on an essay. Wine stains on white dress shirts, he laughing up into my startled face, “I really did that, I am so badass,” Jungian symbolism and drooping plants in a dusty English department lounge and me, draped across a second-hand couch with sagging springs.

Maybe it was Dr. Deal. Huntingdon College, Montgomery Alabama of all the gosh-forsaken places to open one’s mind. If it was any of them, it was him.

But probably not. I was already a writer.

Or maybe it was Grandma. The genes had to come from somewhere.

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P.S. Who or what made you a writer? Do share.