Penny from Heaven by Jennifer Holt
I’ve been thinking about my dad lately. Things we did together. His wit and sarcasm. His intelligence and integrity. He was a good dad and a great guy. This week marked the forty-second anniversary of his death. It crept up on me. I’d been feeling a little out-of-sorts, but, had been dealing with a few of life’s challenges and had been busy and just thought I needed some extra sleep. Then I reminded of the passage of time.
Early this morning, I clicked on Nan’s blog at Letters from a Hill Farm, and there was her title, staring at me. Pennies from Heaven with Frank Sinatra crooning the song. I think Bing Crosby initially made it famous, but, Ol’ Blue Eyes sang it this morning for me in his own inimitable way. I clicked on and smiled a heaven sent smile – and remembered.
My father would put the record on, or just start humming the tune, and we would dance, he in his slippers and I in my stocking feet, standing on tippie-toes atop his feet. Off we danced in a box step, me safe in his arms, floating across the floor. Every time it rains it rains, pennies from heaven . . . He made me believe the song was about me. The words I always heard (and still do) were Every time it rains it rains, Penny’s from heaven. Me. Heaven sent. I never listened to the other words. It didn’t matter. My Daddy and me, dancing away.
Somewhere along the way, I was enlightened that the song wasn’t about me at all. Cousin Ted said he told me, or so he says now. I don’t remember him telling me, so traumatized was at that I must have blocked it out. Of course the song was for me. Each time I hear Pennies from Heaven, I think of my daddy, dancing, and heaven – and I’m pretty sure that Teddy was wrong. Yep. He must have been wrong.
On one of many trips up north, I stopped at a Cracker Barrel and perused their audio book selection. Did you know Cracker Barrel rents audio books? You pay with a credit card, the cost of the audio. When you return it to any Cracker Barrel, they refund you all but $5. Libraries are, of course, cheaper, but, when out on the road with nothing to “read”, Cracker Barrel is the place to go.
I once again digress. There I was, in a Cracker Barrel, spinning the audio book rack around, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but a book titled Penny from Heaven. There it was, just sitting around, waiting for me. Of course, I snatched it up, got in the car, and off I went in heavenly bliss. The cashier must have found me quite odd.
Penny From Heaven is about a young girl who is called Penny because her father loved the song.
Set in 1953, this book by Jennifer Holm is a charming, funny, sad, and even scary young reader book about Penny and her assortment of relatives. She gets into trouble with her cousin, who is also her best friend, Frankie. Their relationship reminded me a little bit of my own with Ted, though we didn’t get into the trouble Penny and Frankie got into. Penny lives with her mother, Me-me and Pop-Pop, who are her grandparents. Penny’s father died when she was a baby, though no one will tell her how. His family lives close by, but the two families do not speak to each other. Penny is allowed to visit her father’s big, Italian family whenever she wants and they are very good to her.
Nonny is Penny’s Italian grandmother and she adores Penny, though she doesn’t speak any English and always wears black. Uncle Dom lives in a car and wears slippers outside. One uncle is a butcher and another manufactures coats. Penny always has the best to wear. The quiet life at Me-me and Pop-Pops – she is a horrible cook and he belches with great regularity - is a stark contrast to her loud and demonstrative relatives and all make for some amusing stories. Her maternal grandparents are loving as well. There are tender moments, such as when Frankie and Penny try to figure out if Nonny, who is always dressed in black, wears white underwear. For anyone who had a grandmother like Nonny, you will understand.
1953 has Penny forbidden to use the public swimming pool lest she catch polio, the two cousins digging for treasures and almost being shot by Nonny, Penny aghast when her mother starts dating the milkman, and a horrible accident with a wringer washing machine.
As the story gradually unfolded, I learned that Italians were interred in American during WWII. I didn’t know this and it set me on a search to learn more. This happens to me more in children’s books and I always enjoy it.
I loved the book during my long ride alone and I recommended it to our book discussion group. I read it again and we all enjoyed a lively discussion on it. So much in the book reminded me about my own large, ethnic family and the contrasts with my mom’s family. I wasn’t allowed to swim in public pools, for the very same reason. Hearing Frank Sinatra singing it again this morning makes me want to read it all over again. For now, I think I’ll just close my eyes and imagine myself dancing on my tippie-toes atop my father’s feet, gliding across the floor, with my Daddy signing along to Pennies from Heaven.
Thanks for the memory, Nan.
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