Cumberland Times-News

Columns

December 8, 2012

You could call them pennies from Heaven

The only thing that had changed about the place was that most of the people who once were there with me are gone now, as was the old cabin. The woods, the pond, the creek and the fields are the same.

I spent the day with my sister from another mister (Carole) and her husband (Lenny), both of whom are my classmates.

An old Keyser High yearbook shows Carole and me walking hand-in-hand with two teachers up the front steps of the old high school when we were about 5 or 6 years old.

Her kids — a boy (Anthony James) and a girl (Anne Elizabeth) — are now a man and woman in their 30s, married and with kids of their own, and they still call me “Uncle Jim.”

While we were watching a football game, I said something that grossed Anne out but left Anthony almost rolling on the floor. (It’s unrepeatable here.)

Lenny and I went for a ride in his old farm-use pickup truck, so he could show me some new land he’d bought and the trails he’s re-opened as roads on the old land.

I pointed out the two places where I’d been shot at by hunters who weren’t supposed to be there, and the spot where Basil fired five times at a deer from point-blank range and missed.

We rode past the field where Carole’s mother, Mary Calemine (my mother from another bloodline), put down five does with five shots, and Ernie came running up to ask, “What are we going to do if the game warden comes?”

Mary’s blood was up — and anyone who’s seen her in that frame of mind knows what that was like.

“To hell with the game warden!” she bellowed.

Mary’s husband, Frank, was like my second father. My dad taught me how to fish, and Frank taught me how to hunt and get along in the woods.

Carole still reminds me about the first time I showed up to go hunting, at age 16, with an umbrella. My mother insisted that I take it because the skies looked like it was going to rain.

Neither will she allow me to forget the day I got stuck in about 100 years accumulation of rotting leaves that acted like quicksand and asked Frank to come help me.

“No use in both of us drownin’,” he said.

Anthony still gets a kick out of that one, and we also talk about the time his late father, Jim, decided he could subdue a wounded turkey barehanded.

We refer to this as The Day The Norwegian Wrestled The Turkey Gobbler. I still would give a week’s pay to have been able to see it. The turkey wound up on the Thanksgiving table, but he exacted a price for it.

The old hunting cabin that Mary and Frank turned into a home in the country was haunted. No doubt about it.

We frequently heard someone walking up on the porch at night, but when we went to look, no one was there. After hearing those footsteps, Frank watched one morning as the inside doorknob turned back and forth, while the outside screen door was still closed and locked.

When we were in the living room, there would be a loud noise in the kitchen (which was next to the living room) like that of someone dropping a big heavy trunk on the floor or a pan full of dishes into the kitchen sink.

Nothing was out of the ordinary.

Frank said he sometimes woke up to see his grandmother sitting on the side of the bed, and he’d get up to sit beside her and talk.

“That’s what he was doing,” Mary told me, “sitting on the bed, having a perfectly normal conversation with somebody I couldn’t see.”

One night, Frank woke Mary and told her, “Go let Grandma out. She’s ready to go home.”

Without thinking much about it, Mary got up, walked to the front door and opened it, said “Good night, Grandma,” then shut the door and went back to bed. That was Grandma’s last visit.

Frank outlived Mary by a number of years. He moved back into town with Carole and her family, and every morning for a long time he walked up to the cemetery to sit by Mary’s headstone and talk to her for a while.

One day, the cemetery’s caretaker asked Frank what he’d do if Mary answered him.

“I’d run like hell!” Frank said.

Frank has been gone for a dozen years, now.

His niece, Nancy, says she believes Frank leaves pennies for her to find in places where one wouldn’t normally expect to find them.

While I was getting ready to move from Cumberland back to my old home place in Keyser, I began running into logistical problems — finding affordable insurance and tracking down somebody to help me move the large items that wouldn’t fit into my car.

That’s when I began finding pennies in places that related to these situations.

One was outside the door to the insurance company I’d gone to after the agent got me insurance that actually cost less than what I’d had in Maryland.

Frank was amazing with money, and he was the best poker player I’ve ever seen.

He sold tickets at Keyser High’s basketball and football games, and my dad (who was the school’s principal) said there would be money lying all over the floor and tables, but when it was counted the total was exactly what it should have been.

Last week, I told you that Frank was leaving me pennies. Here’s the rest of the story:

I would wake up in the morning to sit on the side of the bed, and look down to see a penny between my feet. This didn’t happen every day, but often enough to make me wonder.

Was it a penny that had fallen out of my pants pocket when I was getting ready for bed? Or had someone had put it there while I was asleep?

I began collecting those pennies in a jar on my dresser near the bed, and there are quite a few by now.

One morning I awoke to find a penny, so I picked it up, said “Thanks, Frank,” and put it into the jar. Then I went to the bathroom to perform my morning routine.

I returned to find a dime in the same place where the penny had been.

If you can think of another explanation for that, good for you. The one I have works for me.

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