A Penny for My Thoughts

Yesterday after lunch with a friend I walked into a few shops in town. “Just looking, thank you” was my answer to each and every eager salesperson. I meandered through a new home furnishings shop. A few things caught my eye but nothing gave me pause until I neared the exit and spotted something familiar on a shelf. It was a lucite cube about 2 1/2″ square with shiny pennies floating in it. It seemed out of place, a bit “kitschy” for a shop of overstuffed and oversized pillows, French sideboards, modern paintings and neutral toned furniture. This paperweight could have been a thrift shop find. But it was the only thing that stuck a nerve.

My step-father had the exact same one. It sat on his desk for years and the suspension of the pennies fascinated the grandchildren. They would examine it from all sides, squint their eyes into it and try to figure out the mystery of the pennies being cemented into clear nothingness. One of my sons has it today, a reminder of man dear to our hearts. The fact that today would have been his 105th birthday was not lost on me. A hello from the other side? That’s the way I took it. “Hello, back to you, Frank, ” I said to myself.

Frank came into my mother’s life about a year after his wife’s death and twelve years after my father’s. He and wife had raised three sons, we were a family of three girls and one boy. They were married at a time when our family was expanding with in-laws and babies; the transition was seamless. He was a man of exceptional intelligence but humble about his accomplishments. He was raised in a family of very modest means but one that stressed faith and a fierce work ethic. Exempt from military service during WWII as the sole support of a wife and young son, he worked for Grumman Aircraft on Long Island, and successfully designed a plane. He put himself through night school at Cooper Union while working during the day. He was a brilliant engineer, a man widely read and widely traveled. He had grandchildren of his own but embraced the ones on our side as if we shared DNA. He attended christenings, Little League games, and Christmas dinner with the same joyful enthusiasm. He went to a Giants game one frigid Sunday with my husband and sons and never complained about the single digit wind chill which felled many a fan decades his junior.

Frank and my mother shared a chapter in their lives neither one ever dreamed would have been written for them. He passed away after a brief illness barely a month after their tenth anniversary. It’s been twenty years since he died. When his name is mentioned either among family or friends, I have notice that people say the same thing, “What a great guy!”

I smiled when I saw the paperweight. It made me think about that great guy, enough to write about him and express my gratitude for the blessing of having known him.

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4 Responses to A Penny for My Thoughts

  1. Joan says:

    Claire —
    What a lovely tribute to your stepdad. Thank you for sharing. I’m glad your dear mother had that chapter in her life! What a great “read” this is.
    With love,

  2. Betty says:

    Ah Claire, I loved reading this.
    Yes, yes, yes it surely was a “hello” from the other side!
    You have wonderful memories of a good man and it makes my heart happy that you continue to remember him with love.
    Love and hugs,

    • Claire Coleman says:

      Thanks, Betty. He was a great part of our family for 10 years. I consider myself lucky to have known him.

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