I had a 26-day streak going. I was keeping pace with the Pirates' Kenny Lofton and we were both chasing Joe DiMaggio. This was in the summer of 2003.
For 26 straight days, I had found at least one coin when I went for a walk or at some point in my daily activity. Most of them were pennies, of course, but there was a quarter, two nickels and a dime. My pursuit of pennies became a mini-obsession.
The streak started in southern California, when my wife Kathie and I were visiting our younger daughter, Rebecca, during her birthday week in early May. We went for long walks twice daily with Rebecca's dog, Bailey, and I started finding coins wherever we went. Talk about the California gold rush. No wonder Rebecca came here, I thought, there's money in the streets.
Once I got started, I had my nose to the pavement as much as Bailey. I turned it into a game. I picked up where I had left off when we got back home, and was earnest each day in my search for coins as I got in my daily exercise. I even found four pennies on one of the outdoor basketball courts in Upper St. Clair. There were 12 fellows there that Easter morning, but none of them saw those copper coins. Or maybe no one wanted to bother to stoop to pick them up.
I always feel a little richer when I find coins, and I'm never too proud to stoop and pick them up. There's satisfaction in finding money. It's a good way to start the day. They are pennies from heaven, a gift from my father.
My father, Dan O'Brien, used to come home and boast about finding money, mostly along the curb, when he walked from one end of town to the other. He didn't have a car, so he walked a lot. My mother used to boast that my Dad always came home with money during the Depression. He was out of work, like a lot of men in those dark days, but he knocked on doors and did tasks to earn some money.
That was a story that served me well. I had to knock on a lot of doors to get paid as a newspaper delivery boy, and sometimes I had to knock several times to get someone to answer the door. I was never timid about knocking on doors to get odd jobs and some money.
So I thought about my father when I found all those coins. It was our link. I had been thinking about my mother every day since she died in March, and now, for a change, or because of some change, I was thinking about my father.
Recently, I found a framed photograph of my father in a box in the cupboard in my home office. It was taken in 1922. He was 17 at the time. He is shown looking dapper in a dark suit, his hair parted distinctly, lying on his side on a picnic blanket on the grass by Gladstone School on Hazelwood Avenue in our hometown. I wonder what he was thinking.
He was working at the Baltimore & Ohio Rail Road in Glenwood at that time, and soon after he took a job as a drill press operator at Mesta Machine Company in West Homestead and remained there over 35 years.
I got his picture out on Sunday to show my daughter Sarah when she came to see us on Father's Day. I shared it with friends as well. None of them ever met my dad. They didn't know much about him. I didn't know him for long as an adult. I was 27 when he died at age 63. He died in the old Homestead Hospital.
I remember Dr. Dee, the Mesta company physician, intercepting me in the parking lot and telling me that my father had died a half hour earlier. It's a scene framed in my mind.
Kathie asked me what I wanted for dinner on Father's Day. I said I'd like flank steak. That was one of my father's favorite dishes. I grilled it on the side-porch, and everybody said they enjoyed it.
Sarah gave me two short-sleeved shirts, one blue and one gray, my colors, and a card that had a hand-written note referring to me as "our biggest fan." I felt good about that. Rebecca called from California, and it seemed father away than ever as we spoke.
She had sent me two cards for Father's Day. One was from Bailey -- "someone who looks up to you" -- who referred to herself as my "Grand-puppy." The other was from Rebecca. It showed a fellow typing at a computer. She had drawn in a mustache and a "J" on the breast pocket.
It read: "You could write a book…" and when you opened it the message continued, "about having perfect children." She also had some hand written notes, like I always do.
I'm the only father in our family now. My dad and Kathie's dad are gone, but not forgotten. They left me with a legacy, some good memories, things to try and emulate, and a heavy responsibility.
Being a father is a full-time job and a serious task. Looking for pennies won't make me as rich as having children of my own.
Pennies from heaven are daily gifts from my father was previously published in Three Rivers on June 19, 2003 and was republished here with the permission of the author, Jim O’Brien.
All photos courtesy of Jim O’Brien
Children’s photos are baby pictures of Jim’s daughters, Sarah and Rebecca.
Jim O’Brien has a new book called Franco, Rocky & Friends – It Pays to be a Good Guy. His website is www.jimobriensportsauthor.com