My grandma started leaving me coins on May 27, 2014, six months and two days after the day she died. This is not a matter of conjecture, opinion, or debate. It is simple fact, as you can read in this essay if you’re so inclined.
She leaves them at strategic times and in strategic places. One time, she left precisely seven in a row, in answer to something I was worried about.
You can read about that here:
My grandpa died on January 4, 2015, nine months and 19 days ago. Let’s forgive him for taking a little longer to start sending me gifts. I suspect he’s been a bit distracted what with reuniting with the love of his life and all. Plus, I think he and Grandma were organizing to do something big together. Maybe something for my birthday (give or take a day).
Grandpa lived a seemingly charmed life, and he was grateful for it. He said, “I’ve always been lucky, especially since I met my darling.” He said it so often, Dad mentioned it in his eulogy and everyone in the church chuckled. Dad would tell him, “No, Dad, blessed,” and Grandpa would smile and say, “Yes, blessed.”
Grandpa liked to tell how lucky he was to have been adopted by his dad, the man who built a workshop and gave it to him as a present to welcome him into his home, a place where they spent many happy years building a sailboat together.
He didn’t usually mention the reason he was adopted is that his birth father never cared for him.
He also didn’t much talk about the part of his youth that he spent on park benches after his dad died, trying to get up enough money to get his mom out of the hospital and into an apartment. Or the fact that she died and left him penniless, unable to attend college and become the engineer he and his dad had always planned for him to be.
Instead, he talked about how lucky he was to get into an Army program where he learned to be an aircraft mechanic, and how lucky he was to be invited home for Christmas by a young man with a pretty red-headed sister, with whom Grandpa would spend 75 halcyon years.
He didn’t talk about the struggles of raising a daughter who exhibited the same mental illness symptoms his mother had, at a time when mental illness carried significant stigma, and treatment was unheard-of. He didn’t talk about the headstrong attitude of the son who would laugh while being spanked. He didn’t talk about what it took to scrape together the resources to give two children the college education that his own youth denied him.
Instead, he talked about how beautiful and gracious his daughter was. How responsible and accomplished his son was. He told how lucky he was that his darling Syble was such a good mom, a good cook, a good partner. He talked about how lucky he was to have the opportunity to purchase an airplane at a price his civil service paycheck could afford, and to fly his children and grandchildren all over the U.S. in it.
He talked about how he and Grandma traveled all 50 states together, 49 of them in a motorhome. How lucky they were to do some of that travel with their beloved grandchildren.
He always said he was lucky.
On October 12, 2015, Carey and I, on a whim, decided to do our morning work at our favorite coffee shop, in the next town over. The drive there is short, and lovely–through wooded avenues lined with pretty houses. I often gaze longingly at their long backyards that touch the South Fork River.
That day, there was a For Rent sign in the front yard of one of my favorites, a stately brick home on a lovely, large, naturally landscaped lot. On a whim, I called. The house sounded so perfect for us, we made an appointment to look at it the next day. I spent the evening poring over photos of the interior, puzzling out the layout. I also noticed it had been on the market since August, a surprising fact given the heat of the Belmont rental housing market.
We went. It was beautiful. Stunning. Everything about it seemed custom-made for our family, from the number, size, and configuration of bedrooms to the layout of the downstairs, the screened-in porch, the large windows, and even the outdated kitchen and bathrooms that kept the rent attainable. We decided within minutes of entering the home that it was the right move for us.
Then we went down to the basement.
Now, before we head down there together, let me mention that Grandma has not been leaving me coins as regularly as she used to. I figure she’s a little distracted, what with welcoming the love of her life home and all. Plus, I’ve been doing pretty okay and not needing her as often.
So… down we go. This is where the story changes, here on the basement stairs. This is where I have to bite my lip and try not to cry in front of the realtor, who would undoubtedly judge me unstable and unfit. How could she possibly understand why a pile of pennies would undo me?
The pennies were sitting on the fifth step from the bottom of the basement stairs. An inch deep and three inches wide.
An unexpected, abundant gift from my grandma.
It was nearly two weeks before we would receive confirmation that our application to rent the home was accepted–the day after my birthday, a day when I felt my grandparents as near as I have since they died.
As soon as we received that confirmation, I headed straight to the agency to make our security deposit. The lady at the front desk took the check and asked for the address of the property in question.
When I told her, she said, “Oh, that house! We got millions of calls on that house. Just millions.”
“You did?” I said. “I thought it was on the market a couple months.”
“Oh, yes,” she said. “Just millions of calls. I don’t know why it was on the market so long, but you’re very lucky.”
I’m very lucky.
And that’s why it was on the market so long. The gift Grandpa was waiting to give me was his luck.
Oh, you might say that coincidence just works that way sometimes. Our brains look for patterns, you say, and then we construct stories around those patterns. Yes, I’ll buy that.
And here’s the story my brain has constructed. My Grandpa was a man who lived a hard life. Abandoned by his birth father, left bereft by the death of his adopted father, saddled with his mentally ill mother, he scrambled and struggled to make a decent life for himself, and despite all his efforts, was deeply grieved by his own daughter’s mental illness.
My Grandpa was a very, very lucky man.
Because he believed he was lucky.
Look. Were those coins on the steps of that house that somehow sat on the market for three months despite “millions” of calls–were those mere coincidence?
But that’s not what I believe. I believe the dead leave us gifts, if we’re paying attention.
And I believe that I am a very, very lucky woman.
(“No, Heather, blessed.” Okay, Dad, blessed. Smile.)