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Some Pennies Really Might Be From Heaven - by Phyllis Edgerly

For nearly twenty years, my father has headed south, like so many other birds of “the Greatest Generation.” As soon as New England leaves begin taking on their autumn finery, he packs up his car with its Florida license plate, dodges the worst of hurricane season, and makes his way back to the land of orange groves and flamingos.

But this year was different. First there were the meteorological monsters that never stopped coming to the Florida area. And then there was his own personal storm--cancer--that has changed so many of his plans lately. For the first time in my adult life, Dad stayed in New England for most of a fall season. It was late enough in the year that folks were already asking him about his plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas. And it was early enough in his battle with disease that he was still tentative about making plans of any sort.

It was also five years after my mother’s death and I couldn’t help remembering a little miracle that had occurred during that first lonely holiday season he had faced on his own. Without his companion of six decades, he had been the very embodiment of sadness.

Within a week of her death, he had collapsed and been hospitalized. When I flew down to see him. I knew that, regardless of his illness, he was really fighting to find the will to live, and might not succeed. By the time Christmas carols were playing on my rental-car radio, Dad had become increasingly unresponsive, and my heart sank heavier each day.

I remember saying prayers one night that smacked of desperation, pleading, and outright bargaining. I also remember the fear I had that I was going to lose both of my parents even before I’d begun to thaw from the numbness of my mother’s death. She seemed as far away for me as he did lying helplessly in his hospital bed, and I felt very alone.

When I could finally allow my thoughts to quiet a bit that night, I felt a sensation like a soft hand placed briefly on my shoulder, then experienced a feeling similar to what I’d felt in the past when my mother would so often urge, “Come on, Pet--it’ll be all right,” whenever I’d shared my troubles with her.

That feeling finally allowed me to go to sleep. Then I had a dream that I was standing in the doorway of my Dad’s hospital bathroom, watching as he stood at the sink with his back to me. Someone was standing behind him, much the way a nurse would do, to steady and support him. When I looked in the mirror over the sink, I saw that it was my mother who was standing behind him. Her eyes immediately looked up and gazed back at me before the dream ended.

The next morning, when I went to see Dad at the hospital, a nurse stopped me on my way to his room to advise that he had gotten up in the night without assistance and, fortunately, made his way to the bathroom without incident. While she was unhappy about his method, she was obviously glad to share news of his improved circumstances after he’d lain immobile in bed for nearly two weeks. He had also taken not one, but two walks that morning, she told me.

If my expression was astonished, Dad’s was positively ecstatic when I came upon him sitting up in his room. He couldn’t wait to tell me about his “coup” of getting up and walking all that way. He hadn’t actually wanted to do it at first, he told me, but “your mother simply insisted, and so I just had to comply.”

After he’d said those words, he looked a bit abashed, as though he regretted letting them out, in case I’d think he was crazy. I’m sure that I must have looked a bit dazed myself, standing there staring at him with my mouth open.

We’ve never spoken of it since, although over the last five years he periodically mentions curious little coincidences that help me feel that my mother is near, and leave him absolutely assured that she is.

The latest happened as he was gathering up his things before we headed over to the first of many radiation treatments that he would receive. He noticed something on the carpet in his living room and stooped down to retrieve it. It was a penny, something that my mother, like many people, always considered a sign of good luck.

Only this penny, or “pence,” had Queen Elizabeth on the front--like those my English mother so often carried in her pocket. Dad hasn’t seen one around the house for years.

But I have no doubt that it’s been in his own pocket ever since.

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