Pennies From Heaven – My story from Chicken Soup for the Soul’s new book, Miracles and More

 

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I was at a yard sale looking through a box of old books when I saw a 1936 yearbook from Glendale High School in California. The name “Ben” was written at the upper right corner of the first page. The yearbook was full of the usual notes from classmates and also some newspaper clippings about Ben’s academic and athletic achievements. I looked around for the owner of the house and found him carrying more boxes out of the garage with the help of his two young sons.

I asked him, “Are you selling this?”

“Yeah,” he replied. “I’ll take three bucks for it.”

I asked if he knew who Ben was. He said he was his grandfather.

I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to get rid of such a precious family memento, especially for such a paltry amount of money, so I asked if he was sure he wanted to sell it. He said yes again with a slightly impatient tone as he began talking with another customer.

Though he obviously had no interest in it, I still wanted to encourage him to keep it, if not for himself, for his children, but then thought maybe he had his reasons for letting the yearbook go. Family emotions are complicated. I felt sorry for his sons who would never get to look at this window into their grandfather’s life, and almost didn’t buy it for that reason until I heard him tell someone, “Anything that doesn’t sell is going to the thrift shop.”

I handed him the three dollars, got into my car, and set the yearbook on the seat beside me. I wanted to find someplace quiet and explore every page immediately, but I had to hurry home because I was repainting the interior of my house that day. My wife had taken our two daughters to her father’s house to get them away from the paint fumes. I worked all day but the job took longer than I expected so I called my wife and asked her to stay overnight there so the paint would be dry before she and the girls returned.

I worked through the night and looked at the yearbook during breaks. I learned that Ben, the yearbook’s owner, was no average Joe. He was the Student Body President and Yell Leader, as well as a track and football star. Leadership also ran in the family because his younger brother succeeded him as president, which was a first for the high school at the time and probably hasn’t been repeated since. They were both exemplary students, full of boundless energy and ambition.

The first thing that impressed me as I flipped through the pages was how well-dressed and groomed everyone was. The next was the penmanship and eloquence of the comments. I had to keep reminding myself that they were written by teenagers. The language was charming and full of terms of endearment unique to the 1930’s like “good egg” and “swell fellow.” By all accounts, Ben was both.

But I couldn’t help feeling sad as I looked at the photos of Ben and his classmates, their young faces so full of high expectations for their futures, because I knew their lives had been lived and they were all either gone or very, very old. It was a lot like the “Carpe Diem” scene from the movie Dead Poet’s Society. Looking at photos of young people from another time has always stirred unsettling emotions in me and made me meditate on my own mortality.

Before I returned to my work, I found a playlist on YouTube of hit songs from 1936 and said, “Here’s some music from when you were young, Ben. I hope you enjoy it.”

As I worked, Bing Crosby crooned Pennies from Heaven, Billie Holliday sang Summertime, and dozens of other enchanting tunes from the brightest lights of that era such as Benny Goodman, Guy Lombardo, and Tommy Dorsey transported me to the year when Ben was a high school senior on top of the world and destined for great things. As Fred Astaire sang The Way You Look Tonight, I imagined Ben slow dancing with his girlfriend across the floor of my living room. The fact that my house was built in 1939 and hasn’t been changed much in the years since only added to the ethereal effect.

With such wonderful melodies playing, work was easier and time passed quickly. When I finished, it was four o’clock in the morning. The music ended and the house was quiet. I sat down, returned to the yearbook, found Ben’s photo and said, “Thanks for keeping me company, Ben. I wish I could have known you.” Using the vernacular of the era, I added, “You seemed like a swell fellow.”

A few seconds later, there was a knock at the door, but not just any knock – it was a knock with the “shave and a haircut – two bits” cadence very common to the era Ben lived in – five knocks, a pause, then two more. I was startled because of the late hour but figured my wife had come home early with the girls for some reason. I was sitting close to the door so I rushed over and opened it. There was nobody on the porch. Thinking it might have been kids pulling a prank, I went outside and scanned the front yard. No one. I walked to the middle of the street, looked both ways and listened closely. It was as still and quiet as one would expect in the hours before dawn. None of my closest neighbors have children so there was no chance some kid quickly ducked into a nearby house.

Completely bewildered, I went back inside and sat down with the old yearbook again. A few moments later, it dawned on me with a chill that the knock on the door was Ben’s answer, his way of thanking me for playing the music of his youth, and for turning the pages of his yearbook so he could see the faces of his old friends again.

The curtain between this world and the next is thick, but every now and then, if we’re respectful and receptive enough, and if all the conditions are perfect, I believe we can be given a “penny from heaven” – a greeting from someone on the other side who is determined enough to reach us somehow. I was certain in that moment that Ben had been there, and that his happy, musical knock at my door was his way of saying, “Thanks, pal. You’re a swell fellow, too.”

– Mark Rickerby

(There are 100 other stories in this book about modern-day miracles and unexplainable events, available now in stores, online, or directly from me. 

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“This story is from Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles and More © 2018 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved.”

Twitter Launch Party for Chicken Soup for the Soul’s New Book – Miracles and More

Join me and many of the other contributors to Chicken Soup for the Soul’s new book, Miracles and More, today at 11:00 A.M. Pacific Time. The information is below. Should be fun and inspiring!

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Poem from Chicken Soup for the Soul’s The Joy of Less

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The sole purpose of many of the things I do in life is to annoy my wife (in a fun way.) It’s kind of a hobby. For instance, doing my Al Jolson imitation drives her nuts. Or singing Nights in White Satin at full volume. Or pranking her with rubber spiders on fishing wire hanging from ceiling fans. I once put a full-sized, foam rubber alien at the bathroom window and said, “I thought I heard something in the yard. Can you take a look?” When she opened the window, that alien accessed her primal scream. It was downright blood-curdling. I was proud of her, though, because she punched it right in the nose. However, because I had propped it up with a metal rake in it’s lower back, it just bent backwards and sprung forward to its original position again, which made her scream a second time. I got pummeled but it was worth it. 

She also can’t stand it when I stop at yard sales. She never knows what she’s going to find in the house on a Saturday afternoon. I once replaced the couch with a purple chaise lounge, hoping she wouldn’t notice. When she came home, I just said “what?” like nothing had changed. It didn’t go well for me. 

She calls the stuff I buy “tacky junk.” I call it “eclectic home decor.” So to annoy her further, I wrote a poem a few years ago about my love of yard sales. It was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul’s book The Joy of Less. I hope it gives you a chuckle, and reminds you of the junk collector in your family. (There’s always one.) 

Slightly Bent Flugelhorn, Best Offer

God, please save me from garage sales.
Whenever I see one, it just never fails.
I always have to stop and look around
at all the junk laid out on the ground.

Oh, the excitement! What might I find?
What treasures await? It boggles the mind!
It’s usually worthless, but you just never know!
I might find an authentic Vinnie Van Gogh!

We’ve all heard the stories about some typical fool
who paid ten cents for some tacky, cosmetic jewel
then a week later, the same guy found out with a thrill
that it was Cleopatra’s ring and it’s worth twenty mil’!!!

Doesn’t that make you just want to puke?
I mean, don’t we deserve to have such a fluke?
It’ll happen to me, though folks say it can’t.
Someday, I’ll score an original Rembrandt!

But so far, I’ve only bought stuff I don’t need
like a mountain of books I can’t find time to read,
old clothes that are already starting to fray
and old records that are too scratched to play.

I have tons of toys (though my kids aren’t yet born.)
I’ve got a stuffed iguana and a bent flugelhorn,
a velvet painting of Elvis that nobody can stand
and a baseball mitt that doesn’t quite fit my hand.

I have a cymbal-banging monkey, an old tambourine,
a lava lamp, some hula dolls and MAD magazines,
a banged-up surfboard and a magic eight ball.
I’ve got enough stuff to start my own mall!

My den looks like the set of Sanford and Son.
I know I should stop but it’s just too much fun!
Some people like neatness but I’d be in a funk
if I wasn’t surrounded by cool, kitschy junk!

Searching through old boxes gives me such pleasure.
It makes me feel like a pirate searching for treasure!
It’s prob’ly wishful thinking but I know that someday
I’ll find something to sell for big bucks! I just may!

But half the joy of garage sales is passing the time
with old folks and children and neighbors of mine.
Just shooting the breeze like folks did in the past
is less common now that the world moves so fast.

I have no excuse. I guess I’m a hopeless case
but I run into garage sales all over the place!
My home’s filled with junk. My family’s in a huff.
I’ve got to have a sale to get rid of this stuff!!

(c) Mark Rickerby

“This story is from Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less © 2016 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved.”

More Kindness Than Danger (travel story)

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Here’s my story from Chicken Soup for the Soul’s latest book, Step Outside Your Comfort Zone. There are 100 more stories in the book about living life fearlessly and accomplishing your dreams. You can buy one online, in your favorite bookstore, or order a signed copy from me here through Paypal. (Message me for payment info, etc.) I hope my story inspires your next great adventure.

More Kindness than Danger

Another spring had arrived and, with it, my familiar and frustrated wanderlust. I had waited years for my friends to go to Europe with me, but there was always some reason they couldn’t. I proposed the trip once again to the same friends and received the same excuses. I wasn’t going to let another year go by without making this dream come true, so I decided to take the trip alone. I bought a one-way ticket to Copenhagen and told my friends I would send them a postcard.

On the day of my departure, I was excited but also surprised at how worried I felt—not just about being lonely, but also about the dangers I might encounter. My parents also questioned the wisdom of walking around Europe alone for months. They warned me not to be too trusting, to stay out of bad neighborhoods, and to avoid going out by myself at night. In retrospect, it was cruel to subject them to such torment, but they eventually understood that I just wanted to see the beauty of the world while I was still young.

My own worry was more difficult to assuage. Maybe I had watched too many movies that showed the darker side of man’s nature. Conflict is the essence of drama, after all. All those movies about naïve vacationers being attacked, kidnapped or thrown into abusive prisons had taken their toll on my trust in people. Watching the six o’clock bad news didn’t help, either. But there was no turning back, so I hugged my parents goodbye, got a ride to the airport from a friend, and flew into the big, blue sky and complete uncertainty.

It was early April, but snow was still on the ground in Copenhagen when I landed. Determined to be frugal, I chose the cheapest youth hostel in my travel guide. As I slept that first night on an ancient, unpleasant-smelling mattress beside a cracked, graffiti-covered wall, homesickness began to overwhelm me. I thought, What am I doing? I could be home in my clean, comfortable bed. But even that wasn’t there anymore because I had vacated my apartment and sold most of my belongings to finance this trip. I sat up, took out a miniature flashlight and found a note in my pocket that a friend back home had given me. He had written down the name and number of someone he knew in Copenhagen named Lisbeth. He said she would be happy to take me in for a few days. I decided to call her the next morning, and then fell asleep from exhaustion.

When I arrived at her door, she welcomed me like family and showed me the sights of Copenhagen for several days. I felt so accepted by her and her friends and had so much fun that I forgot to feel homesick.

One night, they took me to a karaoke bar. Word got around that I was from California, so someone asked me to sing a Beach Boys song. I chose “California Girls” but changed “California” to “Copenhagen.” The syllable count was a perfect match. The first time I sang “I wish they all could be Copenhagen girls,” everyone cheered, and I made a hundred friends instantly.

That’s another thing about movies. Nobody can sit in a bar in a movie without some group of drunken nincompoops harassing them. But this bar was filled with the nicest people imaginable. It was just another example of the skewed reality of cinema. Travel was working its magic. My faith in human beings was being restored.

I stayed in Copenhagen for a week before moving on. I was alone again, but invigorated by a great first week away from home. My solitude didn’t last long, however. I found travel companions everywhere I went, especially on the trains. My backpack was a silent invitation to other wayfarers to join forces and see something new together.

With only four thousand dollars, I didn’t know how long I would be able to travel. I ended up stretching it out for six months. When I wasn’t sleeping at youth hostels or the homes of new friends, I saved money by sleeping in train stations or on moving trains between one destination and another, roughing it for the sake of extending the adventure. Besides, with so many new people to get to know and so much world to see, sleep wasn’t much of a priority. It wasn’t just that, though. I wasn’t tired anymore. The continuous excitement of exploration freed me from the weariness that often plagued me at home.

While my friends back home repeated another typical summer, I awoke to the view of cotton clouds drifting through a pastel blue sky above Venice, Italy, as opera students practiced arias in the square below my hotel window. I dipped my feet in the cool water of the Trevi Fountain in Rome and imagined I had discovered the fountain of youth. I watched the sun rise over the red tile roofs of Florence. I held hands with a Parisian beauty at the top of the Eiffel Tower. I sat silently in the cool air of a mountainside prairie in Switzerland as spring exploded around me. I parasailed over Swiss Alps so fertile that the lake below them was bright yellow with floating pollen.

I watched a rainbow form over the Irish Sea. I held my hand against the cold monoliths of Stonehenge and felt their mystery flood through me. I read poetry by candlelight in a cave at the base of the mountain the Acropolis stands upon while colorful hot-air balloons filled the night sky in the distance. I recited a monologue under a full moon at the Theatre of Dionysus. I walked the ancient cobblestone streets of Athens. I danced all night in a Greek disco pulsating with life. I watched a golden sunfish sail past my rowboat in the Aegean Sea and imagined it was Zeus taking the shape of a fish to observe me more closely. I walked through ancient ruins and felt with an ache how brief my existence is, but how sacred and powerful it is for that same reason.

And through it all, I had time—that most precious commodity—to read, write, watch and really see, to listen and really hear, and to savor my life while gazing through the moving church of a train window. I discovered what Joseph Campbell meant when he said people aren’t as interested in the meaning of life as they are in the experience of being alive.

I arrived home with less than a dollar in my pocket, but with a heart and soul overflowing with riches and dozens of new stories to tell. Traveling alone can seem intimidating at first, but the world is full of kindness and generosity, and they are both showered upon us for prices anyone can afford—respect, friendliness, and an open heart.

I’m twenty-five years older now, and those same friends who didn’t come with me on that adventure can’t recall what was important enough to make them stay home back then. My problem these days is not fear of travel or distrust of humanity; it’s being content at home. The desire for adventure only grows stronger with age. How can one have enough fun? Romance? Awe? A world full of wonders, ever-pulsating outside my window, still calls me to new adventures, but now I accept the invitations fearlessly, knowing the rewards far outweigh the risks, and there is much more kindness in this world than danger.

 

“This story is from Chicken Soup for the Soul: Step Outside Your Comfort Zone © 2016 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved.”

New Chicken Soup for the Soul Book Twitter Launch Party!

Step Outside Your Comfort Zone Twitter Party V1

If you’re like most people in the world, you own at least one of the over 250 Chicken Soup for the Soul books. This is my 18th story published with the franchise, and I’m particularly proud of it because it tells a story I always wanted to tell – about a six-month backpacking trip I took through Europe, Greece and Great Britain.

The book is called Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, and my story title is More Kindness Than Danger. It encourages people to not let fear prevent them from living an adventurous life. There are 100 similar stories by other authors in this book, stories that will inspire you to reach beyond your comfort zone and live the life you are supposed to be living.

Tune in to Twitter tomorrow, November 1st, between 2 and 3 EASTERN time (11-1 Pacific) for a Q&A session with the contributors and the publisher, Amy Newmark. Tell them Mark Rickerby sent you. I hope to see you there!

 

 

New Publishings

Hey Friends. Here are three new Chicken Soup for the Soul books featuring stories of mine. One is in stores (online and off) now and two will be available soon. They are:

The Dog Really Did That? – 101 Stories of Miracles, Mischief and Magical Moments. (In stores now.)

My story in this one is about my dog Charlie, a German Shepard mix we rescued so we could have a “guard dog” but who turned out to be so sweet, he wouldn’t hurt a fly (which is the title of the story.) We’ve learned a lot about tolerance and patience from Charlie, especially after adopting a second dog, a vastly smaller Morkie who spends the better part of most days chewing on some part of Charlie’s anatomy. He could end the torment any time he wants with one snap, but he doesn’t. He loves the little monster. She’s the mob boss and he’s the dopey bodyguard. 

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My Kind (of) America – Stories About the True Spirit of Our Country. (Available October 3rd.)

My story The American Team is about a Physical Education teacher in 7th grade who took a few minutes to reveal to all us kids, very artfully, how unique America is in the world. 

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Step Outside Your Comfort Zone – Stories about Trying New Things, Overcoming Fears, and Broadening Your World. (Available October 31st)

I feel a sense of providence at being included in this book because I once paraglided over the Swiss alps exactly like the person on the cover is doing. My story More Kindness Than Danger is about how we’re all just a little poisoned by entertainment, which is necessarily rife with conflict between people, and how that skewed reality can make us nervous about venturing out into the world. But once we get out there, even on the extremities, we find mostly what we have inside and what we give to others. Except for rare and extreme circumstances, the world is as open and loving as we allow ourselves to be. 

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If you’d like a signed copy of any of these books, please message me here. (The Dog Really Did That is sold out. Sorry!)

Here’s a favorite poem of mine that perfectly illustrates the message in my story in Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

The Right Kind of People
by Edwin Markham

Gone is the city, gone the day,
Yet still the story and the meaning stay:
Once where a prophet in the palm shade basked
A traveler chanced at noon to rest his miles.
“What sort of people may they be,” he asked,
“In this proud city on the plains o’erspread?”
“Well, friend, what sort of people whence you came?”
“What sort?” the packman scowled;
“Why, knaves and fools.”
“You’ll find the people here the same,” the wise man said.

Another stranger in the dusk drew near,
And pausing, cried, “What sort of people here
In your bright city where yon towers arise?”
“Well, friend, what sort of people whence you came?”
“What sort?” The pilgrim smiled,
“Good, true, and wise.”
“You’ll find the people here the same,” the wise man said.

 

Twitter Launch Party and Podcast for Chicken Soup for the Soul’s New Book!

Dog Really Did that Twitter Chat V1
Friends and fellow dog lovers,
Amy Newmark, publisher of the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, is having a Twitter launch party for this book on August 8th. Anyone can attend. It’s like a cocktail party conversation online.
My story “He Wouldn’t Hurt a Fly” is in this book, and will be 1 of 4 stories featured on the podcast. I may also be interviewed about that story in another 15-minute podcast later.
I hope you can make one or both of these events! See info below on how to listen if you’re new to podcasts.
Some useful information from Chicken Soup’s email to me –
 
We are excited to let you know your story He Wouldn’t Hurt a Fly which appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Really Did That? will be featured on the Chicken Soup for the Soul podcast.
 
A new podcast will be available each weekday and they can be downloaded for free the same way that you get other podcasts.
 
There is a theme for each day of the week. Your story will be shared on 8/23/17 and will continue to be available on the app once it airs.
 
If you are new to podcasts you may be surprised to learn you already have a podcast button on your smartphone. You can listen to podcasts on your phone, your computer, or your iPad or other tablet.
 
To find the Chicken Soup for the Soul podcast, search within iTunes or your particular podcast app, or click here for podcast – http://chickensoup.podbean.com
 
If you need a little technical assistance or detailed instructions on how to download and listen to the podcast, then please click here for easy instructions – http://chickensoup.podbean.com/p/first-time-here/
 
The podcasts are about six or seven minutes long Monday-Thursday and they provide entertaining stories as well as great advice and easy-to-implement tips to improve your life. On Fridays, Amy Newmark will ask one of our four authors to join her for a longer podcast—about fifteen minutes.
 
We hope you will listen and enjoy!
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