I was 8 when my parents told me about Grandma’s cancer. Even as a child, I knew what cancer was, but my parents still felt that it was necessary to dumb it down and protect me from the realities of it. No matter how they told me, it wouldn't have made it any easier to see my Grandma suffer.
I visited Grandma and Grandpa everyday after school and initially, it was to help them around the house, but it evolved into something much more special. Grandma would sit on her lumpy, brown recliner in the living room, while I did chores, and each day I would rush through the list for the chance to sit on the off-white shag carpet at her feet.
Sitting there, Grandma told me the greatest stories of her travels and even stories of her own creation, but no matter what it was, her voice flowed like a melody and the words danced on her tongue.
Before she started, she would ask “Now Violet, are you forgetting anything?” and I would rush over to the nearby sofa and grab the knit blanket that hung over it. With the blanket wrapped around me, I sat back down in front of her, crossed my legs and waited for the story to begin.
My favorite one was something called “Pennies from Heaven” and it was mesmerizing and beautiful. According to the story, when someone dies, they are gifted a bag of coins in heaven -- one for every good deed they’ve done during their lifetime. And these coins could be sent anywhere in the world, so whenever I saw a penny lying on the ground, it was a gift from someone from heaven. This was an angel’s way of caring for the people they love and miss.
Looking back, I think it was Grandma’s way of telling me not to worry when it was her time to pass, but I didn’t realize that till now.
I was 10 when it happened, and that story made it harder to say goodbye to Grandma. Her death meant that I would never hear her voice tell the story of the angels and the pennies ever again. I had lost my best friend.
Everyone knew of the close relationship we shared, so they all encouraged me to say something at her funeral. I had no idea what to say. This was my first funeral. What did they expect a 10 year old to say? My mom told me, “say something about Grandma. Maybe tell us your favorite memory of her.”
After the prayers and singing, it was my turn to talk. I took a deep breath, looked down at my shoes, then took the first step towards the front. My foot landed in a soft spot of grass and it reminded of Grandma’s carpet. It relaxed me and I wasn’t intimidated by everyone’s stares anymore.
“Hello, everyone. Grandma Annie was family, but more importantly, my friend. My favorite memories are watching her sit in her old chair and tell me about the wonders of the world. I don’t have enough time to tell you every story, but I want to share my favorite one with you all today.” I recited “Pennies from Heaven” and the words followed so easily that I didn't have to think about it. Instead, I wondered when and where I would find Grandma’s pennies.
I finished my story, then returned to the seat so we could watch the casket lower into the ground. The tears in my mother’s eyes were heartbreaking, but the pitter-patter of rain on the lid made it unbearable.
Since that day, I have kept my eyes down in hope of finding a penny from my Grandma.
. . .
I got 86 years. There are people who don’t get that much time, but I needed more. I needed more time with my husband, my daughter, and especially my Granddaughter Violet. I watched them all from up here, but if I could just have one more minute with them…
As I watched the funeral from above, I heard each syllable Violet spoke and it brought tears to my eyes. I missed her so much that my heart couldn't take it. Seeing her talk down there brought back memories of holding her for the first time. Her newborn skin was softer than velvet and her eyes shined like diamonds. I had never seen a more beautiful child, and from that first moment we had an unbreakable bond.
There was so much I wanted to tell her and I called her name but it wasn't enough. I needed my pennies to send down to her, but I soon learned that the story of the pennies was nothing but a tall tale. How could I have let Violet believe something so impossible? There was no way to communicate with Violet now, but I continued to watch over her every day.
I was so obsessed with looking for pennies that my parents pulled me from the edge of sidewalks so many times that I lost count. They warned me that I would get hit by a car one day if I didn’t look where I was going, but I didn't care. I needed to find the pennies Grandma was leaving behind for me. It had been weeks since her funeral and I hadn't found a single penny!
My mind raced and I questioned myself. Was I being a child? How could I expect a dead person to send down pennies to me? The more I thought about it, the more ridiculous the story sounded, so I gave up. How could I be bothered with risking my life for an insignificant piece of metal? I decided to no longer keep my head down, and I never looked back. Slowly the story faded from my memory and so did the memories of my Grandmother.
Everyday got easier for her to forget but it got harder and harder for me to watch it happen. Violet was no longer concerned with looking for pennies on the street. With each passing day, the sparkle in her eyes dimmed and her eyes no longer looked to the ground.
My Grandpa died two years after Grandma. The pain of her absence returned. Their deaths sparked something in me and made me feel something again about Grandma. When Grandpa was gone, I helped mom clean up his things, and in his room I found a pearly white box that was beautifully carved with an image of the mountains. It was extremely heavy and also regrettably locked. I searched for a key but came up empty handed. I took it home anyway and placed in on my dresser. The following day, I was rushing to get ready for school when I tugged on a necklace that was laying on my dresser, but I wasn’t paying attention. It was caught on one of the corners of the box, I pulled harder without knowing what it was caught on and the necklace came loose and the box teetered on the edge. I was unable to move as the box crashed and broke open. I froze as hundreds of coins rolled all over the floor. I kneeled on the ground and grabbed a handful of them. They were from all over the world! In awe, I looked up because I could feel my Grandma smiling down on me. Tears began to roll down my face and my faith in Grandma and the pennies was restored.
Mom rushed into my room and practically pushed me out the front door to get to school on time. My walk to school was enjoyable because I knew finding Grandma’s coins was a good sign, so I kept my eyes focused on the ground the entire walk.
I hadn’t smiled this much since the funeral. That box was one of my most prized possessions because that box held a coin from every country I had visited in it. I used to pull them out when I was feeling down because they would remind me of all of the fun memories of my younger years. The coins weren't worth much by themselves but Violet knew of their significance and she deserved them all. I kept a special eye on Violet that day, but there was nothing I could have done. The sparkle had returned to her eyes, and she was so focused on the ground that she didn’t see it coming. Her right foot stepped off the curb to pick something up, and she stepped out towards the middle of the street without looking when a truck came whizzing around the corner.
Moments later, Violet’s body was lying in the street waiting for someone to save her, but they were too late. The driver picked her up and moved her from the middle of street to the sidewalk. Her arm hung down as she was carried, and the penny she grasped in her hand fell and rolled into the drain.
Everything looked as if it was frozen in time. Violet wasn’t moving and everything around her was still. I watched Violet’s lifeless body and I couldn’t breathe. The euphoria overcame me as I realized that my granddaughter was on her way back to me.