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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: The USA (01/08/09)

TITLE: Penny To My Name
By Chely Roach


Momma pressed something cold into the palm of my hand. When I looked, it was two old wheat pennies and two smooth, flat white stones.

She took my other hand and led me away from the car, through the stillness of the headstones. I was afraid to ask why we were there, in the middle of Calvary Cemetery; all of our departed kin were in crypts outside of New Orleans.

“I bet ya’ wonderin’ why we’re here, huh, child?”

“Why must you still call me ‘child’? I am almost a grown woman.”

Momma seared my flesh with her eyes, but just as quickly they softened, and she looked away. “No matter. You’ll always be my child…

“Alright, here we are, Eliza. You see the name on that stone? Does it mean anything to you?”

The tombstone was almost four feet high, with hundreds of old pennies stacked on top. It read:

DIED SEPT. 17, 1858
Freed from slavery by
his friend Taylor Blow

“I’m guessin’ he was a slave, Momma?”

Momma sighed, “Please dial down the tone, Liza, else I’ll do it for ya.”

I turned my face from her to roll my eyes, “What’s with the pennies?”

“It’s a local custom. Those are also called Lincoln pennies, and folks put them here because this man was one of the reasons for the Civil War. Put one of em’ up there, and the other in your pocket to hold on to.” So I did.

“Ya see, Dred Scott sued his master for his freedom. His first trial was at the Old Courthouse downtown. Shoot, they used to buy and sell slaves on those court steps. It went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. He lost, and ya know why?” Momma didn’t wait for an answer, “Because they decided he was nothin more than a white man’s property. Not a citizen with protected rights, but somehow subhuman. Ya see, child, sometimes just because our government and our courts say something is fine and dandy, don’t make it so. Men fought and died, so that you—Eliza Jayne—a black girl, could be born free; as an American. ”

I could feel her eyes on me, like fifty pound sandbags, pulling me down. She knew. My heart plummeted beyond my bowels; it quaked through my sternum. And then suddenly, it shattered. My voice wavered, “How did you find out?”

“I found your note in the washing machine this morning while doin’ your laundry. The boy in question doesn’t seem too pleased about this, but what are you thinkin’, Liza child? How far along are you?”

I couldn’t believe how calm she was. I thought she’d hate me…kill me. But there she was, looking disappointed of course, but mostly concerned. And a tinge of something else I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The words were caught in my throat…as if saying them aloud would make it real. I wouldn’t be able to keep telling myself that it never happened. But the look on Momma’s face revealed that she suspected the truth before I confessed it, “It’s too late. I..I...I went…it’s too late.”

“Oh, Baby,” the tears bleed deeply into the crevices at the corners of her eyes, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I wanted to hide my mistake…I figured that once it was over, I could just go on and pretend it never happened. But, oh, Momma, I think about it all the time. I wonder if it was a girl, and what she looked like, and what I would’ve named her. It hurts so much, Momma. I don’t think I can ever forgive myself for this.” I sobbed a large wet patch on the bosom of Momma’s shirt, and she rocked me gently while stroking my hair.

“In due time, child. But if you ask the Lord’s forgiveness, you’ll get it.” I could feel the splashes of her tears on the top of my head, “And, baby girl, Jesus named that child for you. Jesus said that whoever has ears to hear Him will have their new name written on a white stone, a secret name that only the Lord and the receiver knows. You can give her an earthly name, and that might even help you grieve her, but hold on to those stones to remember…he knows her…he knows you…and loves you still.”

Momma lifted my chin, and I recognized her expression; more than sympathy, it was empathy.

“I think I’ll call her Penny…”

Revelation 2:17

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This article has been read 1139 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Holly Westefeld01/15/09
This is an incredible weaving of two of the greatest moral crises of our nation. We are, indeed, engaged in a moral civil war over the personhood of the pre-born, and ironically, the descendants of those who so valiantly struggled for and won their personhood 150 years ago, are now disproportionate victims of the lie that "it is just a blob of tissue, not a person." Unfortunately, the pre-born are unable to join those of us who would defend them in protesting the denial of their right to self-determination.
The tenderness of your writing brought tears to my eyes.
Jan Ackerson 01/16/09
Superb--from the title through the last word, this is tender and full of grace.
Sharlyn Guthrie01/16/09
This story has so many layers, from, most of them relating to various kinds of freedom. What an outstanding piece!
Verna Cole Mitchell 01/18/09
This story woven beautifully together is a favorite for me this week.
Karen Wilber01/18/09
I got so caught up in the historical part that I almost missed the connection to Eliza's abortion. Powerful story and message--just because the government and courts allow it doesn't make it right. Well done.
Eliza Evans 01/20/09
In my opinion the last 2 paragraphs of dialog are excellent and really feel authentic and paint a picture of the character of these 2 women. Great job! You have a gift with dialog! I especially like Momma's voice.

Is subhuman a word used from the court case? If not, I don't think it is a word Momma would have used.

I felt like you jumped into "she knew" a little quick. I couldn't see how the girl could know so easily. Perhaps Momma could have reached into her pocket and started unfolding that familiar piece of paper, or something.

Similes like
"50 pound sandbags" are a bit heavy (punny!) as is "seared my flesh with her eyes" They actually detract from the flow of the story, in my opinion. Saying "tears bleeding" is not as effective, I don't think, as describing the look on Momma's face or how she pressed a tight fist against her mouth and sobbed "Why didn't you tell me?" ... or something. Show vs Tell.

Love the title and how it ties in with the last line. Lovely and creative. :)

Teresa Lee Rainey01/20/09
I enjoyed the history here and thought the love between mother and daughter was beautiful. :)
Angela M. Baker-Bridge01/20/09
Great title for a complex piece of writing. Fascinating take on the topic.
Joanne Sher 01/21/09
Absolutely excellent. Atmosphere, characterization, dialogue - everything. This is my favorite so far.
Sheri Gordon01/21/09
This is an incredible entry. Amazing how you wove these two horrible events in our history (and present) into one story. Excellent job with the topic.
Joy Faire Stewart01/21/09
I was drawn into the story by the first paragraph and was riveted through to the last word. Very touching and amazing writing.
Beth LaBuff 01/21/09
Such an excellent story and masterfully crafted. I'd never heard the penny tradition before (so interesting).
Sheri Gordon01/22/09
Congratulations on your EC. I really, really like this story and how you wove the two tragedies together. Great job.
Myrna Noyes01/22/09
Wonderful writing with a lovely, touching ending! CONGRATULATIONS on your EC! :)
Karlene Jacobsen01/25/09
Oh how heartbreaking. Two definitely tragic parts of our history, wove into a heartbreaking story.
Charla Diehl 01/26/09
This is touching, powerful, emotional, and a well deserved winner. I loved your descriptive phrases which drew pictures in my mind. Great job.