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.


Blogger Carrie Wilson Link said...

Baby Girl, I love this. I love the horse of "the best part." I love how they love you, cherish and adore their time with you. I love how Sam has you as one of his favorite girls, right up there with his adored wife and daughter. I love that you named your beloved dog after her. I love that you titled it this, as yes, Penny, both Pennies, are from heaven.





9:04 PM  
Blogger Douglas W said...

What a beautiful story Suzy. I can just hear the music and feel the sway of the dance... I remember doing that with my daughter when she was little... balancing her on my hip or on my arm or having her stand on my feet... while I danced with her. This is really good. It tells of happiness and love. I wonder where Sam and Lorraine are today?

10:42 PM  
Blogger s@bd said...

I bet she does, too.

10:36 AM  
Anonymous paul maurice martin said...

So do I. People seem to pick up on that kind of thing.

1:47 PM  
Blogger Mid-lifer said...

That's just wonderful Suzy. You draw us into your world so easily I almost feel as if I were there with you for that beautiful moment. Thanks goodness for people like Penny and Sam.

4:27 PM  
Blogger Deb said...

I am so grateful you had Penny and Sam and those memories of what it felt like to be someone's Baby Girl. I'm so glad you had those times when your little girl self could just be, and be safe. I'll never hear that Platters song again without thinking of you.

I'm sure Penny is an angel who was sent here just for you. And just as sure that she's still watching over you.

The contrast between Lorraine in the carriage and the piece you wrote recently about you in the carriage makes my heart ache.

Much love to you.

9:54 PM  
Blogger Mama 'N Me said...

You tell this story like spider spinning its web, one gossamer thread at a time. Gorgeous, Suze.


In some ways, though, this story is even sadder than the one about you being left in a high chair. No little girl should be that lonely, that neglected.

Thank God for Penny and Sam.

10:25 PM  
Blogger crazymumma said...

oh suzy. what a picture you painted with words.

And hon, she knows. Course she knows.

10:41 PM  
Blogger excavator said...

What a lovely story, full of light and joy.

Those moments of grace should have been the rule, not the exception. At least they were the rule with Sam, Penny, and Baby Lorraine.

Still smiling, ah.

12:44 AM  
Blogger Manic Mother Of Five said...

Bloody hell Suzy, I was there with you - such is the power of your imagery. I am so glad you had a little bit of happiness to cling to. What a contrast to some of your other experiences. The extremes are so stark.


MMoF xxxx

8:03 AM  
Blogger Carrie Wilson Link said...

I love all the comments your getting, Suz, ditto all of them!

12:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Times in your life you will treasure, two lovely people making you feel like the special person that you are. Penny will have no doubt seen you grow up into a beautiful woman. And I have no doubt she will still visit you today.

God bless, Crystal xx

12:53 PM  
Blogger Mercurious said...

Beautiful Suzy. Just beautiful. The juxtaposition of these pieces with the horror of the others is what makes the whole thing work so well.

Wonderful work, my friend.

5:33 PM  
Blogger kario said...

Oh, Suze! I am tingling all over. I kept waiting for you to be taken advantage of in some horrifying way and when you weren't it gave me such hope. Oh, God, what a powerful, powerful story you have here. What a beautiful snapshot of your life. Thank you so much for this.

Love you.

9:35 PM  
Blogger menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

The starkness of not being loved at home and yet being so totally cared for by strangers must have made that comparison so much more painful. But, someone showed you unconditioal love and my what a gift they gave you. How deeply sad that she died so young. I know of a fed very bitter people that seem to live forever. Not fair eh?

I found my way here from MMOF's tremendous blog. She was right - you are well worth a visit and a talented writer.

I will catch up with your whole story soon.

2:43 AM  
Blogger frog ponds rock... said...

Penny's from Heaven indeed..

cheers Kim xx

8:52 AM  
Blogger Casdok said...

Beautiful, you have such a way with words.

9:57 AM  
Blogger Terry Whitaker said...

oh suzy, thank you so much for sharing that story so beautifully. It makes my heart hurt.

8:32 AM  
Blogger Kim said...

Oh, this is just so beautiful, and ditto to all of these wonderful comments!

I also felt such a mix of emotions: so much joy that there were these kind, loving people in your life who loved you so dearly, to show you that the world could be another way. But also so much sadness, at how fleeting it had to be, at the fact that you could get not a drop of this kindness in your own home, and at the stark contrast between Lorraine in the baby carriage versus your experiences there.

As always, and as many readers have said, you pull me in immediately and put me right there with you, right in the moment, like no other writer I know. It is such an incredible talent.

And like Carrie said, I just love the idea of Pennies from heaven--both of them.

And I love you.

8:17 PM  
Blogger Jen McGrath said...

GORGEOUS and heartbreakingly beautiful. Thank you for sharing this. I'm new to the blogosphere, and people like you make it exciting to be here.

10:07 PM  
Blogger Pig in the Kitchen said...

So good to know that there were moments of pure happiness in your childhood, even though they didn't compensate for the rest.

4:49 PM  
Blogger She's like the wind said...

Another moving episode from your life, words cannot express how well you write and share your experiences, you made me feel warm, loved and tingly and then so sad that Penny passed away. I'm sure she watches over you. xx

10:34 AM  
Blogger dgibbs said...

That was beautiful Suzy! I love how everytime you tell a story I can see it so well.


3:32 PM  
Blogger Michelle O'Neil said...

Oh Suzy!

This is so very beautiful. I am glad you had this experience to let you know what love felt like when the rest of your young life was so very unloving.

You kept a little glint of Penny with you and allowed it to grow.

1:44 PM  
Blogger Maggie May said...

You have me almost in tears! You certainly have the knack of making you want to go on into the story to find out more. I hope Penny somehow realizes the important part she played in your life if that is at all possible.
I really want to hit your Mum!

2:23 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

So beautiful Suz. Wonderful to see a little heaven creep into the hellish life you were living. What jumps out to me is how this little bit of love and kindness they showed you (a little piece of their day) was a monumental event that you waited for and let linger for a lifetime. I guess we never know when something we do touches someone like this. Thanks for sharing this.

7:27 AM  
Blogger menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Suzy are you coming back soon? I pop over from time to time but you seem to be awol for the time being.

12:08 PM  
Blogger grammer said...

Suze, this is so great, so tangible, so immediate. I can feel all your excitement, feel that excited kid-kind of excited when you feel safe and something really great is about to happen. It's amplified when you're a kid from a hard house... I remember.

When you wrote, "I'm so happy I almost can't breathe," well, it took my breath away.

The details in the story are stunning. Thank you for every word. xo

8:05 PM  
Blogger Jess said...

I thought I'd commented on this a long time ago. Hm. Great writing, great storytelling, really evocative.

Hope to see you back here soon.

Love, J

10:20 AM  

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