McKay, our only child, loved pennies. He loved life. When he was little, my husband, Carl, and I called him "couch hopper," because he was so active and fun-loving he'd often jump over our couch in sheer excitement. No matter what he did, whether it was climbing a tree, reading a book or saying his prayers, he did it full speed ahead.
He was especially intense about his faith. When he was still very young, we started to teach him to say thank you. Once when we prompted him, asking if he remembered what we called the two special words, he looked up at us with big eyes and said, "A-men!" At night he asked me to play "Surely the Presence of the Lord..." on the piano before he went to bed.
His passion for pennies started in the first grade, when his grandmother gave him a large pickle jarful. McKay carried it to school in his backpack for show-and-tell. After that, he was always on the lookout for pennies. When we went for a walk or to the shore, he kept one eye peeled for a flash of copper and exhorted me to do likewise. It became a kind of ongoing family project to find pennies with McKay.
As he grew, so did his interest in spiritual things. He enjoyed Sunday school and church and playing hymns on the piano at home. When he was 11, we sent him to summer camp at Laity Lodge, in the Texas Hill Country. Practically the first thing he told me when he returned was, "mom, I've had a religious experience." He didn't have to say any more; I could tell he had truly been moved.
McKay was 12 that September evening in 1995 when Carl and I went to a business meeting. Carl called later to check on him, but there was no answer. "I'll go home and look in on him," Carl said. He thought McKay might have fallen asleep in front of the television set. But Carl became frightened as soon as he saw the back door of our house ajar. He dashed inside calling for McKay. The phone rang. It was someone demanding half a million dollars for our son's safe return.
We collected money to meet the kidnapper's demands. Then we waited for further instructions. We would have given anything to get McKay back, even our own lives, but it was not meant to be. Several days after his abduction, police found McKay's body in neighboring Louisiana. Eventually they arrested his killer. We believe McKay had been lured from our house by a man who claimed that Carl and I had been injured in an accident. The man forced our son into the trunk of his car and drove him to Louisiana. McKay made desperate attempts to escape and eventually the man shot him.
As sudden as a bolt of lightening, tragedy shattered our lives. There is no pain like the loss of a child, no grief so wrenching. What reason did I have to go on?
In the following weeks, life was a gray, featureless landscape that I walked through in a stupor of pain. I wandered around our house begging God for comfort that I didn't really believe existed. Fending off apathy, I forced myself through my daily routines. One morning, I was about to pull out of the driveway to run an errand, when I realized I'd forgotten my sunglasses and went inside the house to grab them. When I got back in the car, a coppery flash caught my eye. There on the armrest was a single, shiny penny catching the sunlight so. I wrapped my hand around it and held it tight, not sure whether to cry or smile.
I thought no more about it until a few days later when I noticed another penny on our porch, right in front of the door. I smiled. Was this a sign that McKay's spirit was still with us?
All afternoon, I thought about the mysterious pennies. That night I said to Carl, "I know this sounds weird, but I think McKay's been here." Carl looked at me. "Why?" "He's leaving pennies." I showed him one.
We didn't discuss it any further. Then one of McKay's classmates called the house. "Miss Paulette," Ryan said, "I found four pennies in front of my locker. I'm sure McKay left them there."
That night I told Carl. "McKay can't come down from heaven," Carl said gently. I knew that, of course. But angels can! I thought.
Every time hope seemed out of reach, a penny turned up. Once, unable to eat anything at the table where McKay used to sit, I fled alone to a drive-in burger joint. Waiting dismally for my order, I glanced at the stainless-steel food tray. Four pennies were there where none had been just a few seconds before.
And so it went. McKay loved to read and be read to. He had hundreds of books-novels, histories, the classics-and we felt they should be donated to a good library. Our first thought was local Montgomery College. We toured the campus with its president, Dr. Bill Law, but were having trouble coming to a decision. Then outside the administration building, I spotted another shiny penny. "Dr. Law," I said, "your library will be the perfect place for McKay's books."
Most startling of all, was what happened to my sister, Pam, one of McKay's favorite people. He loved to visit her on her Mississippi farm and she was devastated by his murder. One day, the summer after his death, Pam rolled the family Jeep, avoiding a stalled truck in the road. Miraculously she survived with minor injuries. As she was brought into the emergency room, she asked the nurse to remove her shoes. "There's gravel in there or something." she complained.
By now you can probably guess it wasn't gravel. Two pennies fell out, one from each shoe. Later Pam told me that a strange force seemed to push her back into her seat while the Jeep was flipping over, keeping her from being thrown from the vehicle.
I know what that force is. It is God's love, shown to us through friends, the Bible, prayers, and pennies from angels. It's what I found when I thought nothing could ever comfort me again.
Paulette Everett Conroe, Texas