Pennies From Heaven

MONTGOMERY—A barbecue joint. An old place with faded walls and perfect Boston butts. A TV above the counter shows footage of helicopter-crash wreckage. The headline reads “Kobe Bryant Dies in Helicopter Crash.”

The young woman behind the bar turns the volume up. It’s a sleepy Sunday afternoon, there are no customers in the restaurant but me and my wife.

The news reporter says, “…NBA legend was killed this morning in a helicopter crash that claimed the lives of the passengers aboard including Bryant’s thirteen-year-old daughter…”

“Oh no,” says the girl behind the counter, covering her mouth.

The cook and a dishwasher have come out of the kitchen to watch. Everyone is silent.

The TV reporter goes on, “Kobe Bryant was forty-one years old…”

When I pay my tab the cashier remarks, “He was so young.”

“Too young,” the cook says.

“Way too young,” adds the dishwasher.

This is what all people say when a young man dies. It’s a ritual of sorts. My father also passed away when he was forty-one. People said this millions of times. Always in this exact way.

Anyway, the cashier hands me my change and I know it sounds silly, but the first thing I usually do is inspect the pennies in my pocket change.

“What’re you doin’?” she asks.

“Looking for pennies.”

“Why?”

“Old habit.”

She looks at me funny.

The penny thing is kind of a weird story. Maybe too weird for your taste. I wouldn’t hold it against you if you stopped reading right here.

But ever since boyhood I’ve had a knack for finding special pennies. Don’t misunderstand me, I never find any real money in the form of dollar bills, blank checks, or winning scratch-off tickets. Just pennies. And each time I find one, I always check the penny’s date.

I come from a long line of superstitious people who believe that a found-penny’s date means something. Namely, it means that a departed loved one whose birth year matches the penny is sending you a sign. You might think this is bizarre, and I would tend to agree with you.

Except that I’ve found too many pennies at too many appropriate moments.

A few years ago, for instance, when one of my friends died, I was out of town making a speech in Birmingham. He died suddenly, and I never got to say goodbye. When I received the news I was sick about it.

The next night, my wife and I were at a restaurant with friends. I found myself staring at the ground a lot. Right before our appetizers arrived I noticed something beneath my feet. A coppery glare.

I picked up a penny and held it to the light. It was the same year that once welcomed a rowdy friend into the world. A boy who once set fire to a brush pile that soon turned into a half-acre inferno requiring the expertise of the fire department and a qualified priest.

Niagara Falls. Right there in the restaurant.

Another time I found a penny on top of a mountain. I was 14,115 feet above sea level to be exact, standing atop Pikes Peak.

I was not bred for high-altitude. I live in the swamplands of Florida. My house is literally a few feet below sea level. We have frogs on our toilet seats. But there I was, on a mountain visiting the scattered ashes of my father for the first time in twenty-some years.

I stood on a ledge overlooking Colorado, some of Arizona, and bits of Kansas. And I remembered my old man. He was forty-one, handsome, smart, athletic. He was young. Too young.

Later in the mountain gift shop I bought a few T-shirts and coffee mugs. When the cashier placed my items into the baggie she pointed to the floor and said, “I think you dropped something.”

The floor was covered in a gray slurry of mud and snow. In the center of a lone bootprint was a penny. I didn’t even have to look at the date. I just knew. It was the birthdate of a long deceased forty-one-year-old man.

“Is that yours?” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “It is.”

I don’t know why I’m telling you this. You probably don’t believe in magic. But the thing is, I do. And it takes a lot of effort to make myself believe, it doesn’t come naturally to me like it does for children. I wish it did. I guess I only do it because I don’t want to stop missing certain people. Not yet.

I leave the barbecue joint. I’m carrying my to-go food in a Styrofoam box. Before I step into my vehicle, I see something in the gravel. It’s a metallic glare from beneath the driver’s side door.

I pick it up. I inspect it, but no luck. It’s only a nickel, and the year on the coin doesn’t ring any bells. I wish it would have been a magic penny because that would have made this story a hundred times better. But it’s just an ordinary scuffed-up coin. And I’m just an ordinary fool.

When I crawl into my front seat I see the cook and the dishwasher standing on the sidewalk, smoking cigarettes.

“He was so young,” says the old cook.

“Way too young.”

I’ve never known anyone who wasn’t.

30 comments

  1. Victoria Gottschalk - January 27, 2020 7:02 am

    Beautiful ♥️

    Reply
  2. David Bower - January 27, 2020 12:08 pm

    loved this … thankyou for sharing!

    Reply
  3. Lita - January 27, 2020 12:45 pm

    Thank you, Sean. I have a thing about a white dove appearing at propitious moments.

    Reply
  4. Anne Arthur - January 27, 2020 12:49 pm

    Same here…with rainbows.

    Reply
  5. Phil S. - January 27, 2020 1:05 pm

    Great story, Sean, as always. I live in Montgomery, and don’t know which BBQ joint you and Jamie were in, but there are several good ones. You and I must be the only people left on earth who pick up pennies. My friends laugh at me for it. One says, “Man, germs!” another, “Gross! You don’t know where that penny’s been.” Maybe not, but I know where it’s going – in my pocket. From now on, though, I will check the date first. Me, superstitious? Never!

    Reply
  6. Karen - January 27, 2020 1:22 pm

    My family has always believed that when we find a coin, it is from a loved one who has passed on. I will tell them to start checking the dates. My mother says she gets coins when she has done something that my daddy would have liked.
    Butterflies, birds (cardinals & others), hawks & rainbows are other signs for us.
    I had a friend who wasn’t sure about this, until her daddy died. She called me to tell me there were 2 doves sitting in her father’s chair on the day after he died.
    On the day my father died, he walked in the house and laughed & said he’d “had a conversation with a little bird.”
    Before my son-in-law died, a little bird came and perched on his hand and chirped to him.
    After my son-in-law’s father died, we were driving toward South Alabama, and it was raining. The sun came out and we saw the biggest and most beautiful rainbow that stretched across the sky. I have never seen one quite like it. It took your breath away, and his son knew it was a message from his dad. Magic and miracles are there, Sean. Never stop believing that.

    Reply
  7. Jan - January 27, 2020 1:22 pm

    Love this. Signs … I believe. They come at just the right time to remind you of someone or some thing you need to remember. Thank you!

    Reply
  8. Edy - January 27, 2020 1:30 pm

    Well said

    Reply
  9. Marilyn - January 27, 2020 1:35 pm

    And I too, believe…A friend found 3 coins shortly after her adult son passed. These were her sign he is now at peace and she is having them made to beautifully display on a bracelet.

    Reply
  10. Jo Ann - January 27, 2020 1:50 pm

    For me, rainbows, dragonflies, & pennies.

    Reply
  11. Myra - January 27, 2020 2:07 pm

    I’d not heard of this … but I love it! So much so, I’m going to start doing the same thing.
    Won’t you share the name of that BBQ spot? Long ago I learned, those sort of places serve up the best food. Hold the atmosphere and send me another plate of that Boston Butt (please).

    Reply
  12. Shelton A. - January 27, 2020 2:25 pm

    41 is just too young any man, especially man with a family.

    Reply
  13. Betty F. - January 27, 2020 2:33 pm

    Another good one. I’m glad I’m not the only one who believes in “magic”. Also, thanks for a wonderful evening Saturday in Pell City. It must be hard to share yourself with a crowd of people who all think they know you, but the only one who really does is in the back smiling at you. She’s a super lady.

    Reply
  14. Pam McClain Tracy - January 27, 2020 2:42 pm

    Thanks for sharing this. We lost our 34 year old son in a truck accident 4 months ago. Way too young. I always pick up pennies, but will now start looking at the dates.

    Reply
  15. Edna Barron - January 27, 2020 2:44 pm

    I believe too. You have a wonderful day, Sean. Hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  16. Gloria Knight - January 27, 2020 3:02 pm

    We lost our daughter before she was due to give birth to her first child: daughter & grandchild gone in matter of minutes & many hearts broken. Years later on a trip to Acadia National Park, we were boarding a boat to visit an island. I was last to step on the gangplank and looked down to see a shiny penny on the ground. Thought about that old saying “Find a penny, pick it up & all day long you’ll have good luck.” That day was August 23, our daughter’s birthday. The penny was dated 1966, year of her birth. That was my penny from Heaven!

    Reply
  17. Cheryl - January 27, 2020 3:10 pm

    For me…..it’s Cardinals.

    Reply
  18. Joe Patterson - January 27, 2020 3:15 pm

    Thanks again

    Reply
  19. Jennifer Stultz - January 27, 2020 3:56 pm

    My daddy died of a heart attack at 41. I was 17 and my siblings were 14, 8 and 5. Too young. Much too young. Hope I find a special penny today. If I do, I will consider it a “God Wink”. Thank you for sending this one today.

    Reply
  20. Linda - January 27, 2020 4:18 pm

    Here are a few of my stories / You have to be open to these signs….so many people say “Just a Coincidence.“ ….not really
    My aunt Connie who lived with us for many years passed in November of 1999. Even when she was in a nursing home she never forgot my birthday.
    My birthday is in March and on the exact day of my birthday in 2000, I received a dollar bill as change from a transaction. I , for some reason looked at it before putting it in my wallet and there written in bold black letters was the name Connie.
    You have to think of all the dollar bills in circulation, the names of people who inhabit this earth and the 365 days of each year…..
    No one says Coincidence when I tell this story of mine……
    My sister passed and a few months after – her son asked me if I wanted two little silver rings of hers. I said no as he had daughters and his brother has daughters – I have none but he insisted….I put them in my jewelry box and didn’t think about them again. They didn’t fit my fingers as they were both for small children.
    9 months later , my twin granddaughters were born.
    My Dad passed away and two years
    after – on his birthday – at ten minutes to midnight on that day I met my husband to be…
    I wasn’t really looking but my Dad was….😘.

    Reply
  21. Linda Moon - January 27, 2020 4:59 pm

    I did not stop reading, there, or anywhere. Someone I knew and loved was only 37 when he left us way too soon. Don’t stop missing those certain people, Sean…..not now, not yet, not EVER. Overlooking Colorado from Pike’s Peak is Majesty for me. If I ever get back there, I’ll be joining you in remembrances that will never end. In the meantime, I’ll keep reading the magic of your stories you send to us every day!

    Reply
  22. Donna M. Gulliver - January 27, 2020 5:54 pm

    I have no trouble believing your story….my aunt was a big believer in if you found a dime, someone in heaven was thinking of you. Several months after she died, my cousin took her Dad to buy a new Cadillac. Uncle Harold was almost past driving, at his age, but he was insistent and my cousin thought he has the money and if it is that important we will go get the car. They are standing under the canopy, as it is raining, waiting for the new Cadillac to be brought around. My cousin looks down at her feet and sure enough there is a shiny dime, she picks it up and starts to laugh as she “hears” her Mom say “Harold you don’t really need a new Cadillac.”

    AND my own experience….My Mom loved rabbits and they visited her garden often. In fact the last phone conversation I had with her she was excited about a rabbit in the garden. Years after she passed, my son in law was scheduled for a 10 hour surgery for a large brain tumor. The evening before his surgery, about sundown, I looked out in my back yard and there was the largest rabbit I have ever seen and as he sat nibbling clover I felt as tho my Mom was telling me everything would be all right with my son in law and it was…he did not go blind, nor have issues with other predicted/possible problems! (I had never seen a rabbit in our yard as we have a new fence, which is low to the ground and still don’t know how he got in there.)

    Reply
  23. Connie Havard Ryland - January 27, 2020 7:05 pm

    I think we have to believe in magic. I don’t have any problem at all believing you. We lost a young man a few years ago now, suddenly, unexpectedly. His loss devastated everyone who knew him. For some weird reason, every time I see a red bird I feel him close by. I’m sure, somewhere in my history, I heard something about the magic of red birds and it stuck. But there it is, no matter the reason. Grab your magic and hold on to it. Love and hugs.

    Reply
  24. Robert Chiles - January 27, 2020 7:52 pm

    There was a fellow in my church in SC. He had lung disease from serving in Viet Nam and so was tethered to oxygen and didn’t get out. I would take him Communion every month or so. His house was full of dragonflies- paintings, photos, needlepoint, and stained glass that he and his wife had collected. So he died and we had his funeral. At the grave, we said our prayers and just as we said the last Amen, a dragonfly flew up and landed on his casket.

    Reply
  25. Anne Robinson - January 27, 2020 8:21 pm

    When my favorite uncle passed away in 1990 I asked God to give me a sign that Uncle Louie was with Him. That very day I found my first penny glaring up at me in the sunlight. I always check the dates too. I never miss the opportunity to pick up a penny. Only once did a dollar bill fly up literally under my skirt, in a sudden windstorm. No one was around and so I figured Uncle was sending me a bonus. When they were here my uncle and his wife, my favorite aunt, went everywhere with my hubby and I and our first child. Uncle was very well educated. He knew Colorado history like I know my own self. He obtained a pilots license when he was a younger man. He worked 40 some years on the railroad. Oh the stories…..but he always said he had “lucky money” and the more he gave away the more I received. I figured he and God were in this together and I always look down when I am walking in a parking lot. Thanks for your sweet story and thank you for remembering Kobe. #forever24

    Reply
  26. Steve Winfield - January 27, 2020 8:37 pm

    A profound individual.
    A friend in the Navy used that term to describe certain “indescribable” people.
    But you certainly are & I mean that in the most respectful & complimentary way.
    I worked so much this past weekend that I just read your last 3 emails at once. First thing that came to mind is, “Boy, this guy is deep”.
    Thank you. I love you. I hope you’re having a wonderful day.
    I so hope you realize how much you help so many.

    Reply
  27. Peter Stoddard - January 27, 2020 10:43 pm

    Signals and messages from God? I like that better than simply magic. But you tell a dang good story dang well.

    Reply
  28. Kris Perez - January 28, 2020 12:17 am

    Another good story from Sean as the tears fall. Thank you for touching so many hearts today, and every day.

    Reply
  29. Chasity Davis Ritter - January 28, 2020 12:47 am

    Oh Sean…. you’re always exactly on my wave length. Since my Dad has been gone I search for and find pennies almost every day and I even dream about finding them. Sometimes I look at the date sometimes not. I didn’t know the thing about it being the year they were born though My Dad leaves me pennies in some of the strangest places and sometimes the most obvious ones too. But my first Christmas without him I was at work and that day I found a penny with a cross shape stamped out of the middle of it. I knew Dad was with me and wishing me a merry Christmas and letting me know he was in Heaven celebrating with Jesus. I keep that one in my pocket all the time. I show it to people sometimes too. I found another cross one my first Easter as well. I sure liked reading your story just now. We actually just came home from the grocery store and this time it was my daughter who found the penny. She was quite pleased with herself and into her pocket it went. They never leave us you know….. they’re always close by. Thanks again for sharing this one today.

    Reply
  30. Joyce Anne Bacon - January 29, 2020 7:51 pm

    My father died at 41 also Sean. And they’re right … way too young. But then my Mom died at 67 people said the same thing…too young. These were people in their late 70s and 80s so I guess the age is in the eye of the beholder so to speak. But anytime someone we love dies….they were too young.

    Reply

Leave a Comment