Excerpts for Penny from Heaven
Me-me says that Heaven is full of fluffy white clouds and angels.
That sounds pretty swell, but how can you sit on a cloud? Wouldn’t you fall right through and smack onto the ground? Like Frankie always says, angels have wings, so what do they have to worry about?
My idea of Heaven has nothing to do with clouds or angels. In my Heaven there’s butter pecan ice cream and swimming pools and baseball games. The Brooklyn Dodgers always win, and I have the best seat in the house, right behind the Dodgers’ dugout. That’s the only advantage that I can see to being dead: You get the best seat in the house.
I think about Heaven a lot. Not because of the usual reasons, though. I’m only eleven, and I don’t plan on dying until I’m at least a hundred. It’s just that I’m named after that Bing Crosby song “Pennies from Heaven,” and when you’re named after something, you can’t help but think about it.
See, my father was crazy about Bing Crosby, and that’s why everyone calls me Penny instead of Barbara Ann Falucci, which is what’s on my birth certificate. No one ever calls me Barbara, except teachers, and sometimes even I forget that it’s my real name.
I guess it could be worse. I could be called Clementine, which was the name of another Bing Crosby song that my father really liked. I don’t think I’d make a very good Clementine.
Then again, who would?
Uncle Dominic is sitting in his car. It’s a 1940 Plymouth Roadking. It’s black with chrome trim, and the hubcaps are so shiny, you could use them as a mirror. Uncle Dominic pays my cousin Frankie to shine them up. It’s an awfully nice car; everybody says so. But then, it’s kind of hard to miss. It’s been parked in the side yard of my grandmother Falucci’s house for as long as I can remember.
Uncle Dominic lives right there in his car. Nobody in the family thinks it’s weird that Uncle Dominic lives in his car, or if they do, nobody ever says anything. It’s 1953, and it’s not exactly normal for people in New Jersey to live in cars. Most people around here live in houses. But Uncle Dominic’s kind of a hermit. He also likes to wear slippers instead of shoes. Once I asked him why.
“They’re comfortable,” he said.
Besides living in the car and wearing slippers, Uncle Dominic’s my favorite uncle, and I have a lot of uncles. Sometimes I lose track of them.
“Hey, Princess,” Uncle Dominic calls. I lean through the window and hear the announcer on the portable radio. Uncle Dominic likes to listen to ball games in the car. There’s a pillow and a ratty-looking blanket on the backseat. Uncle Dominic says the car’s the only place he can get any rest. He has a lot of trouble falling asleep.
“Hi, Uncle Dominic,” I say.
“Game’s on,” he says.
I start to open the back door, but Uncle Dominic says, “You can sit up front.”
Uncle Dominic’s very particular about who’s allowed to sit in his car. Most people have to sit in the back, although Uncle Nunzio always sits up front. I don’t think anyone ever tells Uncle Nunzio what to do.
“Who’s winning?” I ask.
“Bums are ahead.”
I love the Brooklyn Dodgers, and so does Uncle Dominic. We call them Dem Bums. Most people around here like the New York Yankees or the Giants, but not us. Uncle Dominic is staring out the window, like he’s really in the ballpark and watching the game from the bleachers. He’s handsome, with dark hair and brown eyes. Everyone says he looks just like my father. I don’t remember my father because he died when I was just a baby, but I’ve seen photographs, and Uncle Dominic does look like him, except sadder.
“Got something for you,” Uncle Dominic says.
All my uncles give me presents. Uncle Nunzio gives me fur muffs, and Uncle Ralphie gives me candy, and Uncle Paulie brings me fancy perfumes, and Uncle Sally gives me horseshoes. It’s like Christmas all the time.
Uncle Dominic hands me something that looks like a big dark-brown bean.
“What is it?”
“It’s a lucky bean,” he says. Uncle Dominic is superstitious. “Just found it this morning. It was packed away with some old things. I got it for your father before he died, but I never had a chance to give it to him. I want you to have it.”
“Where’d you get it?” I ask.
“Florida,” he says.
Uncle Dominic loves Florida and goes to Vero Beach every winter, probably because it’s too cold to live in the car then. Even though he lives in this car, he has another car that he uses for driving, a 1950 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Frankie says he bets Uncle Dominic has a girl down in Florida, but I kind of don’t think so. Most women want a new Frigidaire, not a backseat.
“Put it in your pocket,” he says. “It’ll keep you safe.”
The lucky bean is big and lumpy. It feels heavy, not the kind of thing to put in a pocket, but Uncle Dominic has this look about his eyes like he might just die if I don’t, and because he is my favorite uncle, I do what I always do.
I smile and say, “Thanks, Uncle Dominic.” For a moment the strain leaves his eyes.
“Anything for you, Princess,” he says. “Anything.”