“See a penny, pick it up. All day long you’ll have good luck.”
Who can resist the famous penny quote from the movie Grease? That line has basically been part of my DNA since I first saw the film at nine years old. Luckily for me, Mom was very accepting of my Grease obsession. She was always amused at any lines, songs, or trivia I had to offer.
Mom was The Official Penny Picker Upper. She could spot a copper coin from a mile away.
“Hold on, Marla, let me get this penny right here.”
She’d quickly bend over to pick it up and then dance a little jig in celebration. I, on the other hand, would go into full-blown Grease mode. At the end of the ritual, we’d always flash a subtle smirk at one another, content with our quirky ways. All the pennies Mom found were either thrown into her purse or haphazardly tossed on top of our refrigerator, ready for last-minute charges on school lunches or ice cream treats.
After her beloved Daddy passed away in 1997, Mom’s penny collection began to take on a more spiritual significance. She taught me that a penny is a sign that your loved ones in heaven are always with you.
“Well, looky there. A penny from heaven. Hold on, honey. Let me get this.”
Even her actions changed. Each time she spotted another penny, her face would take on a noticeable softness. With much intent, she’d carefully tuck her heavenly treasures into her leather coin purse or place them inside her tennis shoe until she arrived home. No more storing change on top of the fridge. She had grandchildren’s piggy banks to fill.
The first time it happened, I was so taken aback by the change in her demeanor that I forgot to perform my trademark Grease routine. Our quirky ways were over. We had graduated to a higher level of understanding – and we liked it.
But it didn’t stop there. Leave it to Mom to discover another layer of meaning behind the penny encounters. Ten years ago, Mom was helping me clean up for a birthday party at my house. I had just emptied the filthy contents of my vacuum canister into a trash bag she was holding in her hands. Amidst the clumps of smelly dog hair and tiny Lego parts appeared a penny.
My germaphobe self got the best of me. This is NOT a penny from heaven. It’s a part of the trash. Nope, not touching it. Leaving it right there. Gross.
Just as I was about to close the bag, Mom stopped me and began digging her way into the trash to retrieve the one cent wonder. As she carried it over to the kitchen sink to clean it off, she explained, “Anything that has the words ‘In God We Trust’ written on it, should be treated with respect. See, all you have to do is wash the penny and your hands at the same time. It’s no big deal.”
She sure put me in my place. Humbled by her newfound sentiment, I eventually became accustomed to collecting unsanitary coins with ease. Who knew antibacterial hand gels could shine coins?
Then, about three weeks ago, Mom’s penny lessons became poignantly relevant in such a way that made me wonder if she had signed up for the Pennies From Heaven committee.
My frustration was at its peak. The maternal woes of parenting three teenagers and one young adult had once again taken a toll on me. Nothing that a little prayer, some fresh air, and a quick phone call with my sister Monica couldn’t fix. Serenity now.
But the stress was clinging tight that day, and I soon realized that my go-to remedies weren’t quite cutting it this time. My wall of emotions was too thick. I needed more.
Dear God, help me to trust in you. I’m so hurt and confused, I prayed.
The heaviness in my heart somehow managed to sink down to my legs, making the short walk home feel like miles. With each step came a desperate prayer or a turbulent memory from the days of my own adolescence. Overwhelmed with emotion, I looked up at the sky and cried.
Thank you, Mom, for loving me even when I acted so unlovable.
Right then, my phone emitted an unusual twirpy sound. Curious, I stopped in my tracks to check on the mysterious ring tone, but the combination of the tears in my eyes and the sun’s bright glare hindered my view of the screen. I moved my arm aside to get a better glance, when my focus suddenly shifted towards the ground.
Oh my God. A penny. Oh Momma, you heard me, didn’t you?
I picked up the penny in slow motion, in the exact manner my mom would have, savoring every detail of the moment. With Abe Lincoln’s face staring right up at me, I couldn’t help but smile as I read the faded inscription right above his head: “In God We Trust.”
Yes, God. I will trust in you. I promise.
My call for serenity had been answered. But my gaze was drawn back to the dirty copper coin.
No way. This can’t be right.
I rushed towards the shade. With my fingers still wet from my tears, I wiped away the dust and grime from the surface of the penny. I could hardly believe my eyes. The year etched on the coin was 1969 – the year I was born.
What were my chances of finding a 48-year-old penny in Spring Branch, Texas, precisely at a time when I needed it most?
I know a heavenly sign when I see it. This is what I call a Big Kahuna kind of sign. My serenity immediately turned to ecstasy. I kissed my special penny – sanitation was the very last thing on my mind in that moment – and held it close to my heart, crying as I swayed to the rhythm of my quiet words of praise and thanksgiving.
Thank you, God. I love you, Mom. I love you, Lord. Thank you, Mom……
I can’t imagine what the neighbor down the street thought of my odd behavior, but I didn’t care. I gained my composure and walked – or rather, floated – back to my house.
After sharing my heavenly encounter with the kids, I asked my 15-year-old son Daniel to double check the date, knowing his eyesight is way better than mine.
“Yep, it’s 1969. The year you were born. This sure is an old penny.”
I normally would have cringed at any reference to my age, but not that day. I had before me a gift – a token of God’s faithfulness and Mom’s love rolled together in the shape of a penny. It symbolized the fact that I was heard and that everything was going to be okay. And it was.