Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Penny's From Heaven

I wait outside in the hot afternoon sun, sitting on the old splintered fence that is in the small front yard of our basement apartment on Henry Street. It's hot, flies are buzzing around, Ma's sleeping, Frankie is with his friends and Big Franks is at work. I swing my legs back and forth and notice all the black and blues on my legs from playing. I'm wearing plaid shorts and a palid shirt, my red Keds. I'm trying to keep my hands clean because they have to be when you touch babies. My hair is clean and washed. I just got it cut this morning at Johnny the Barbers's. Frankie says I'm not a real girl cause I go to the same barbershop he goes to and he says my hair cut looks dippy. He calls me "bowl head".

I make believe I'm just sitting here but I'm really waiting. I've been waiting all day for this and I want to be ready for her.

I finally hear a creak of a door opening. It's the outside porch screen door on the 2nd floor of the house next door. It's her! Yay! Finally!

I jump way off the fence and land on the cement sidewalk in front. I run next door as fast as I can, run up the 26 steps I've counted so many times, to the 2nd floor front door just in time.

"Hi Penny", I say. "Want some help taking Baby Lorraine down the steps in her carriage"? "Hey baby girl", Penny says smiling. "What a nice suprise to see you. Are you playing outside today?" "Yep," I say, "just hanging around".

"Well arent't you a sweetie girl to offer to help. That would be really nice, but be careful, I don't want you falling down those stairs and getting hurt."

"Nah, I'm a big girl, I'm almost 7." Penny smiles and winks at me.

I hold the screen door open so Penny can get the baby carriage out the door with Baby Lorraine in it.

Penny gently tips the carriage back and eases it down the step to the porch.

I stand guard along side of the carriage, holding onto to the metal piece with all my might, that is on the side of the carriage cover, in case in slips. Penny gently tips the carriage towards her, and plop, down one stair, another tip, plop, another stair, all the way down to the sidewalk so Baby Lorraine doesn't get scared or hurt.

On the sidewalk Penny checks on Baby Lorraine to make sure she's okay and laying right in the carriage. Penny leans over Baby Lorraine, fixes her little t-shirt and says, "Lorraine, say hello to Suzy. Suzy helped us down the stairs." I peek inside the carriage and see Baby Lorraine smiling, waving her arms and drooling.

"She's happy Penny," I say. "I think so too, Suzy," as Penny bends down to my height, fluffs my hair and draws me closer to her and gives me a hug. I love Penny's hugs. I get to smell her pretty perfume. It's not the perfume that Ma wears and then gets mixed with the fried onion smell from the White Tower. Ma never hugs anyway, but I can smell her from a distance.

Penny Jones is the most beautiful woman in the world. She lives next door to me on the 3rd floor with her husband Sam Jones, a fireman. Sam is the only Negro fireman in New Haven. Penny is tall has long black shiny hair, and is a light skinned Negro woman. She has pretty freckles all over her face. She wears a light pink lipstick on her lips, not like the heavy fire engine red lipstick Ma uses that makes her look like a clown with big lips. Ma puts the lipstick on like you ouline a drawing before you color it. Ma never kisses me anyway, but when Penny kisses me, there's always this little outline of her lips on my cheek that I try not to wash off for a long time.

"Want to walk to the store and get a bottle of milk and a few other things Suzy?", Penny asks. "I'll let you push the carriage". I smile and say, "yes please." I put my hands on the metal handle of the big baby carriage. I can just about see over the handle to Baby Lorraine.
I make believe in my head again, that I belong to Penny and that she's my mom. We walk down the street, her long soft hands on my shoulders, guiding me. Baby Lorraine is lucky to have Sam and Penny for parents. They never yell at her and really love her and are kissing her all the time.

We finish at the store and head back home. We take the baby carriage with Baby Lorraine in it back of the steps the same way we came down. Penny stands on the first step, tips the carriage gently towards her and pulls the carriage up, one step at a time. I stand by the side of the carriage again and help guide the carriage back up the 26 steps.

The best part of the day is going to happen and I can hardly wait.
Penny leaves the carriage on the second floor inside the door and picks up Baby Lorraine. I help Penny carry some of the groceries and follow Penny up the stairs to their 3rd floor apartment. Penny opens the door to the kitchen into a beautiful apartment. Windows are open, shades are open, light colors are on the walls, not like the dark yellow walls in Ma's house with all the blinds and windows closed. Penny's house doesn't smell like cigarette smoke like mine does either. Penny puts the sleeping Baby Lorraine in the crib in the bedroom next to the kitchen.

"Hey sweet girl," Penny says. "How about some Pepsi and I bought your favorite cookies at the store- Mallomars?" WOW. Mallomars, am I happy! But the best part still hasn't happened yet........

Penny gets 2 real glasses from her cupboard and 2 plates with flowers on them. Ma always uses plastic cups. I sit at the kitchen table really quiet. Penny pours the soda. "Want some ice cubes with that baby girl"? "No thank you," I say, not wanting to bother Penny. Penny opens the Mallomar package and puts 4 cookies on each plate. One for her and one for me.

We sit at the kitchen table, eating the cookies and drinking pepsi cola and Penny talks about all kinds of stuff. Am I looking forward to going back to school? Do I like to read? What kind of books do I like? Do I like tv and what do I watch.

I listen to every word she says to me and I answer politely. I want her to really like me. I'm pretty sure she does though. Penny finishes her cookies and puts her plate in the sink. She puts her glass of soda on the window sill next to a wooden rocking chair. "Hey baby doll! Want me to put your favorite record on the record player?
It's happening! It's getting to be the best part of the day!
The record player is on a stand next to the kitchen table in a special cabinet that has the records on the bottom. Penny chooses my favorite record from her records, The Platters, takes the record out of it's jacket, opens the record player, and places the record on the record changer. She turns the knob to 33 1/3, plop, goes the record onto the spinning piece of rubber, the arm moves over the first groove of the record and sinks gently into the groove of the first song. You can hear a couple of scratchy sounds before the song starts. But as soon as the music starts and it's like I'm in heaven.
Penny takes her seat in the rocking chair, lights up a cigarette and holds it between her first and 3rd finger like real ladies do. Not like Ma or Big Frank. They hold their cigarettes in their thumb and first finger like the bad guys in the movies do. Penny takes a puff from her cigarette and turns to the window and blows the smoke out the window through the screen. Ma and Big Frank always blow the smoke in my face cause they know I hate it. Penny would never do that.
After a while Penny starts to sing along with the Platters and even though I know every single word I don't have a pretty voice like Penny and I just want to hear her sing. Sometimes, she looks right at me and sings the words like she's singing just to me, especially my favorite song.

Heavenly shades of night are falling, its twilight time.
Out of the mist your voice is calling, tis twilight time.
When purple covered curtains mark the end of day
I'll hear you my dear at twilight time.

I know it's a song about men and women, but it sounds like a lullaby to me.
As the song continues, Penny opens her arms and says," Come sit on my lap baby girl".
I go over to her, sit on her lap and curl up as close as I can, wishing I could stay here forever, while she holds me, rocks me and sings the soft and slow music in my ear as the song finishes.

Deepening shadows gather splendor as day is done
Fingers of night will soon surrender the setting sun
I count the moments 'til you're here with me
Together at last at twilight time.
Here in the afterglow of day
We keep our rendevous beneath the blue
And in the sweet and same old way
I fall in love again as I did then
Deep in the dark your kiss will thrill me
Like days of old
Lighting the spark of love that fills me
With dreams untold
Each day I pray for evening just to be with you
Together at last at twilgiht time.
Together at last at twilight time.

The music continues and just as I begin to fall asleep in Penny's arms, I hear footsteps coming up the stairs. It's SAM!!!! Sam's here! I LOVE SAM- Penny's husband. Sam is home from the firehouse. The kitchen door swings open and Sam Jones walks in, smiling, standing there with his hands on his hips. "Well, it's all my special girls, right here!" "Hi Suzy Baby". " Hi Honey", he says to Penny. Sam walks over to the rocking chair bends over to kiss Penny, then takes my chin in his great big hands and kisses me on the forehead. "Where's Lorraine, sleeping"? Penny tells Sam how we've been out most of the afternoon and how much I helped with Lorraine and the carriage and the groceries. Sam smiles and thanks me for helping and goes into the bedroom to see his baby daughter.

"So you girls are having a party without me again huh? How come nobody waited for me? I'm fun at party," Sam says as he pinches my cheek.

"Ah, The Platters! Suzy's favorite group and mine too," Sam says.
"Well, I sure can't sing as well as you two can, but I sure can dance"!

Sam stands in front of the rocking chair, bows to me and Penny and says, "Ladies, may I have this dance?" This is the best part of the day! I'm so happy I almost can't breathe.

I jump off Penny's lap. Sam picks me up, places me on his hip and holds me on his right side and holds Penny on his left side, and the 3 of us begin to slow dance. Dancing together, holding on to each other, and singing. The words of the song, to this day, never to be forgotten, some 50+ years later.

When the twilight is gone and no songbirds are singing
When the twilight is gone you come into my heart
And here in my heart you will stay while I pray

My prayer is to linger with you
At the end of the day in a dream that's divine
My prayer is a rapture in blue
With the world far away and your lips close to mine

Tonight while our hearts are aglow
Oh tell me the words that I'm longing to know

My prayer and the answer you give
May they still be the same for as long as we live
That you'll always be there at the end of my prayer

Soon after the dancing stopped, I could hear my mother shriek from the back yard to get "the hell home" immediately.

Penny and Sam would hug and kiss me and Sam would walk me home.
Heaven would continue on another day.

*Note: I had 2 really great summers with Penny and Sam Jones.
They moved from Henry Street after that and I only saw them a few more times. They moved to a suburb and my mother was jealous that they got out of Henry Street so visiting them was always dependent on her.
Unfortunatley Penny Jones passed away at an early age. I was 11 or 12 when I learned she passed away from kidney disease. I saw Sam and Lorraine a few times after that. They were extremely sad. I never got a chance to say goodbye to her or tell her how important she was to me, but I bet she somehow knows.

I miss her to this day. I have never nor will I ever forget her.
Even named my dog after her...Penny.