Sammy was cold. She dragged her blanket through the house, searching for Daddy. Mama was gone. Sammy never knew where Mama went, but sometimes she came back with good things to eat.
Sammy walked up and down the hallway past the bathroom. The door was closed. Her daddy had to be in there. She called, “Daddy? Where are you Daddy?”
Sammy knew about closed doors. It was a rule – do not open a door when it is closed. She called again in her loudest voice, “Daddy, are you in there?” She sat down in front of the door and snuggled close to her blanket. She was hungry and couldn’t find any food. Could she, just this one time, break a rule?
Sammy stood and beat her tiny fists against the door. Her daddy had to be in there. Just this one time – she stretched her arm toward the doorknob like it was a strange dog that might bite her. Her hand was so small and the doorknob so large that she couldn’t turn it, so she dropped her blanket and used both hands.
The door opened.
Daddy was asleep on the bathroom floor. Sammy didn’t want to wake him up because that was another rule – do not wake up Mama and Daddy. Instead, she covered Daddy with her blanket and went to the bedroom where she had a mattress on the floor. Sammy lay down and wondered when Daddy would wake up. She wondered when Mama would come home. She wondered if they would give her something to eat.
Sammy opened her eyes. Her Mama was crying. The room was so dark she couldn’t see anything. She heard her mother scream – one big long noooooo. Then the sirens wailed and the people came and took Daddy and Mama away. When the policeman found Sammy lying in her corner, they took her away, too.
The screen door opened with a whine then snapped itself shut. Penny looked up. Gran was holding Poppy’s brown sport’s jacket. The sun fanned out behind her head, and Penny could see how thin and gray her hair had gotten. When, she wondered, had Gran had gotten so old?
Gran held the jacket up to the light. “Do you reckon this will be alright?”
Penny took the jacket and put an arm around Gran’s frail shoulders. She felt as fragile and slight as a butterfly. Penny said, “I think it will be just fine.”
“It was Poppy’s favorite suit coat,” Gran said.
“It was Poppy’s only suit coat.”
They looked at each other and smiled. Gran pulled a tissue out of her apron pocket. “It’s going to be so lonesome around this old place.”
Penny slid her hand into her pocket and felt for the penny. She held it up for Gran to see. “He gave me this one before he died.”
Gran folded Penny’s fingers around the coin and laid her careworn hands on top. Penny studied her grandmother’s hands. They had cooked, sewed, gardened, and kept the house spotless. They had held Penny when she cried and wiped away her tears. They had brushed her hair, and scrubbed behind her ears. They had taught her how to cook and sew and smacked her bottom when she needed it.
Gran said, “Those pennies were Poppy’s way of saying he loved you.”
Gran wiped the tears from Penny’s face and gathered up Poppy’s suit coat. She went back in the house and Penny slipped the last coin Poppy would ever give her, into her pocket. Penny had every cent Poppy had ever given her except the first one. That first penny she had given back to him.
The social worker said good-bye, and the lady, who called herself Gran, patted Sammy’s knee. Sammy looked at her soft face and saw that her eyes were smiling. Then the door opened, and the man with hair as red as Sammy’s, came in. He said his name was Poppy. He wore a plaid jacket with big pockets, and one of them was bulging.
“Who can guess what I have in my pocket?” He smiled at Sammy.
Gran tapped her forehead. “How about a giraffe?”
“Good guess!” Poppy said. “Try again.”
Poppy rocked back and forth on his heels and patted his pocket. “Now, let me see. What did I put in my pocket?”
“Tell you what,” Poppy said, “whoever can give me a penny can have it.”
Gran said. “I don’t have a penny.”
She looked at Sammy. “Do you have a penny?”
Sammy shook her head no.
“Why, sure you do!” Poppy said.
He walked over to Sammy, picked up one of her copper colored curls and withdrew a shiny penny. He held it out and waited for Sammy to take it. She looked at Poppy’s pocket, which had started to move. She took the penny without taking her eyes off Poppy’s pocket.
Out of his pocket, Poppy pulled a fuzzy orange kitten. It fixed its round green eyes on Sammy and meowed.
“Oh,” escaped her lips. She looked up at these people who said they were her grandparents.
“Where’s my penny?” Poppy asked.
Sammy gave Poppy the penny, and he placed the kitten in her outstretched arms. It swiped at one of her copper curls, making everyone laugh.
Poppy rested his hand on top of her head. “From now on, you will be our bright shiny Penny.”
That was twenty years ago. Now, Penny sat down in the floor of her room and pulled out the box full of pennies. Tarnished now, they had been bright and shiny when Poppy gave them to her. When she was a child, Poppy gave her pennies for feeding her cat, helping Gran weed the garden, picking up her toys, and as she got older – for doing her homework, washing the dishes, helping Gran around the house and numerous other things Poppy deemed “worth a penny.”
Penny scooped up a handful. They dripped through her fingers like raindrops. She held them up to her nose and breathed in their metallic tang. She whispered, “Poppy, I will miss getting your pennies.”
Penny dropped the coins and pulled out her stack of notebooks. On top was her first journal. She opened it and read:
Things I remember about my mother.
1. She smelled like rain.
2. Her eyes were the color of spring.
3. She called me Sammy.
4. Sometimes she danced.
5. Sometimes she cried.
Things I learned about my mother.
1. She named me after Samantha Stevens, her favorite character on the TV show “Bewitched”.
2. She dropped out of school and ran away with my father.
3. They only made it to Ohio before their car broke down.
4. She refused to come back to the mountains.
5. She was in jail.
Things I remember about my daddy.
1. He died.
The next day, Poppy was laid to rest in the family cemetery. The first time Penny visited his grave, she knelt to pull a few weeds that had sprouted near the headstone. She tossed them aside, then took her hand and smoothed the loose dirt. She felt what she thought was a rock so she picked it up, intending to toss it aside. Then she saw it was a penny.
She rubbed the dirt away and held it up to the light. It was shiny like the ones Poppy had given her. She ran her hand over the grass, but couldn’t find any more. She knew the penny had probably dropped out of the pocket of the person who had set the headstone, but she left the cemetery that day wanting to believe that somehow, it was from Poppy.
When Penny got back to the house, she put the coin in the little cedar box that held the last penny Poppy had ever given her. She knew this penny wasn’t really from Poppy, but it had been on his grave and she wanted to keep it.
Summer came to the mountain and Penny and Gran settled into life without Poppy. They worked side-by-side in the garden. When the days grew hot, they retreated inside to wait for an afternoon shower. They spent evenings on the front porch stringing beans, shelling peas, shucking corn, and talking about Poppy.
Early one morning, Penny walked up the mountain to the family cemetery. She carried a bunch of wild roses, the stems wrapped in a wet rag to guard against the thorns. This was the second time Penny had come alone to visit Poppy’s grave. All the way up the mountain she thought of the penny she had found the last time she came alone.
Penny knelt to pull the weeds that had sprung up around the grave. She tossed them aside and began arranging the flowers next to the headstone. She stood to look at her handiwork, and that’s when she saw a penny lay amongst the roses.
Penny gasped. She was sure it had not been there when she cleared away the dead flowers. It was shiny and new, but dirt from the grave clung to it. She turned it over and over in her hand. Then she slipped it into her pocket. “Thank you Poppy.”
The day came when Penny handed Gran a box.
“Open it,” Penny said.
Gran opened the box and spilled its contents into her hand. There was one shiny penny, and twelve others with dirt from Poppy’s grave still clinging to them. Penny took the clean one and held it up. She said, “This is the penny Poppy gave me the night he died.”
“Then where did you get these?” Gran held out her hand.
“I found them on Poppy’s grave.”
Gran looked up with tears in her eyes.
Penny said, “Every time I went to Poppy’s grave alone, I found a penny. There was never more than one. It was like Poppy put them there for me to find.”
Gran laid the hand with the pennies in it next to her heart. With her other hand, she caressed Penny’s cheek. She said, “Why of course, it’s possible. Your Poppy is just sending you pennies from heaven.”