Anna is a typical high school student who is tired of writing boring research papers. When she decides to research angels, however, all that changes-in fact, her life changes. She learns that her grandmother and mother both know how to communicate with angels and that both have received signs from deceased loved ones. When she discovers her grandmother's angel cards, she uses them to communicate with her own angels. After her presentation to her classmates, she reluctantly agrees to teach others how to use angel cards and is compared to a witch by the editor of the school paper. Anna faces the disapproval of her father, the vice-principal, and her best friend as her angels continue to leave her pennies as a sign of comfort. When she is asked to assist a famous author in teaching teens about angels, Anna is not sure can handle the pressure.
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Hummingbirds, Pennies, and Hope
By Jeanne Lemmon Skinner
Balboa PressCopyright © 2012 Jeanne Lemmon Skinner
All right reserved.
Chapter One"This is a research paper I think you'll actually enjoy," said Ms. Peters as she stood before the class and smiled at her humor. As expected, her English class responded with a loud groan. "You will be selecting a topic that interests you. Think of it as an opportunity to learn about something new and exciting; I am emphasizing the word 'new.' I will not read fifty papers about the history of professional football. Your topics are due Friday, and I reserve the right to veto any topic." The bell rang, and Ms. Peters was quickly surrounded by questioning students.
Frustrated with another assignment, Anna pushed past the students and entered the crowded hallway. Another research paper! Doesn't she get tired of grading? I have a paper due for Mr. Coates next week on the survivors of the Holocaust. I just don't have the time or the energy to write another paper, thought Anna as she walked to her locker.
"Wait up!" called Maddie, Anna's best friend. She was on her way to audition for the upcoming fall play, The Crucible, and was visibly anxious. "Wish me luck," she said as she clutched the script.
"I don't know why you're so nervous. You're great. You're always great, but if saying good luck makes you feel better, good luck! We read one of the scenes from The Crucible in drama class, and Mr. Biggs explained the symbolism. We all wanted to read more, but he said we had to try out in order to find out what happens. I wish I could try out just to see how it ends," Anna said as she tossed most of her books into her locker.
"He's good at giving teasers. Hopefully, you'll be in the spring musical. It'll be even more fun than this. You still plan to be on the stage crew for the play, don't you?" Maddie asked anxiously.
Brushing her hair away from her eyes, Anna said, "It depends on how Grandma is doing, but I think I'll be able to help with costumes and makeup. That way I can earn Thespian points, and we'll still be together."
"We're stuck together like peanut butter and jelly, as your grandmother says. You can't have one without the other. I'll call you later and give you all the details from tryouts," Maddie promised.
Anna watched her friend walk away. Maddie was pretty and talented, a winning combination that made her one of the most popular girls in school. She was tall and blonde, and she walked with the grace of a dancer. As she passed a group of boys, they all turned and smiled. Thom Deal wished her good luck on the tryouts, and his whole face smiled when he spoke. Thom had liked Maddie since freshman year. Unfortunately for Thom, Maddie considered him just a friend and they had never been on a date.
Anna gathered her things and headed for home. She was glad that she could walk to school. It gave her time to unwind, and on beautiful days like today, she could enjoy being outside. She loved the fall. She kicked the brightly colored leaves as she walked. A shower of crimson and orange surrounded her feet.
As Anna approached the library, she saw that the sun had illuminated the fountain in the courtyard. The sparkling water splashed happily from the top of the three tiers to the bottom. Yellow mums had been planted at the fountain's base, and the whole area had a golden glow. I think I'll run in and see if I can find something to research, thought Anna. At the moment, nothing sounds very interesting except a nice, warm chocolate brownie dripping with chocolate icing.
As she walked past the teen section in the library, Anna stopped to see what was new. More vampire books? I don't get it! What's with this vampire craze? I would never want to be a vampire; I enjoy food too much. No way would I exchange eating chocolate for drinking blood! Anna knew what a few people were researching, but nothing sounded very exciting. She wanted something new and unique.
She wandered into the hobby and craft section because Sara Little said she was going to research how to make paper. Anna looked at various books, but she wasn't very artsy, and she was sure Ms. Peters would expect her to actually produce an example of what she had researched. Sara would make her own paper and then do something creative with it, making it look incredible. I can't see myself creating anything I'd want to share except a large veggie pizza with extracheese, she thought as her hunger announced itself again.
The next section was self-help books. There were some interesting topics, but nothing drew Anna in. Nope, nothing here, she thought, beginning to feel discouraged. The next aisle held spiritual books, and Anna thought of all the books in her grandmother's book case at home. Grandma loves these books. Hmm, this might be interesting, a book about communicating with angels. I wonder if Ms. Peters will approve it. I bet no one else will choose this. Hey, as long as I can write five pages about it, I'm good. Anna glanced at her watch and knew she had to hurry. Mom would have to leave soon to get to the shop, and she was needed to stay with Grandma. Anna quickly checked out the angel book and headed home in the fall sunshine.
"Hi! I'm home!" Anna shouted as she opened the front door. She walked into the kitchen, but no one was there. They must be outside, she thought. The glass doors that led to the patio were open and the fresh fall air filled the room. She could see her mother and grandmother sitting in the yard by the flower garden; their chairs were surrounded by leaves, and they were peeling apples. She wondered if she'd have time to rake after dinner. Raking leaves was one of Anna's favorite fall activities. She felt sorry for people who didn't get to experience it. She cheerfully crossed the yard and picked up a bouquet of colorful leaves and pretended they were a bridal bouquet.
"Hey, you two! Are we going to have apple pie?" Anna asked excitedly.
"Apple crisp tonight," her grandmother, Ellen, said with a gentle smile. "I still have energy for a few things, and peeling these apples makes me feel useful. Your mom bought a whole basket at the farmers market. Feel free to join me in peeling them."
"I think we need to go inside now, Mom," said Karen, Anna's mother. "It's gotten cool since the sun left the yard. The meatloaf and potatoes should be ready soon. Maybe you could make the apple crisp for dessert tonight, Anna." Karen took the bowl of apples from her mother and handed them to Anna. She then gently helped her mother rise from the chair. "It's too difficult to use the walker in the grass, but we took our time and made it," she said to Anna. Turning to her mother she said, "Take hold of Anna's arm, Mom. That will give you more support."
The three Williams women slowly made it into the house. A stranger could tell they were related because they looked so much alike. Even their voices were similar. Their most striking features were green eyes and pale skin. Freckles were a nuisance for each of them, and each had spent hours either trying to prevent them or hide them. Cancer was taking Ellen Williams from her daughter and granddaughter, but she was trying to find joy in every day she had left. Spending time in the yard surrounded by nature's beauty brought her much pleasure. She had spent many hours working in her own flower beds and then later her daughter's. Gardening had been one of her passions. Ellen was not looking forward to winter and was determined to hold on to the fall as long as she could.
"Well, it looks like you can take charge now, Anna. Grandma's medicine is right here. I'll be home about ten. Call if you need me," said Karen as she picked up her keys.
"Okay, Mom. We'll be fine. The apple crisp will be waiting for you when you get home," Anna said, and then she helped her grandmother get comfortable in a chair.
"Grandma, I'll get the topping made for the crisp while the meatloaf finishes baking. You sure peeled a lot of apples today. " "Just put a little sugar on them and put them in freezer bags.
That way they'll be ready for your next crisp or pie. I think I'll rest here in my chair while you work. All that fresh air has made me tired." Grandma smiled as she closed her tired eyes.
"Oh, dear Lord, please be with my grandma. I love her so much. I don't want to lose her. We could sure use a miracle, if you still do that. She is getting worse each week." Anna prayed as she worked butter into the brown sugar and oats.
The timer beeped, indicating that the meatloaf was done. Anna quietly got dinner on the table and went to wake her grandmother. "Grandma, dinner's ready," she said as she gently shook her. Anna tried again, but her grandmother could not be awakened.
Chapter Two"I can't believe she's gone. We were supposed to have more time. She was just resting before dinner, and then ..." Anna didn't think she could cry anymore; that's all she had done for three days. She was very thankful that Maddie had come home with her after the memorial service.
"Let's get something to eat. You really need something in your stomach. It will help you feel better," said Maddie.
The house was filled with family and friends, and Karen was busy arranging food platters and talking with people. Anna knew her mother was aching like she was, but she had things to take care of before she could sit and grieve. The girls took their food outside and sat by what her grandmother called the "angel garden." She had named it in honor of the angel statue that adorned the bed. The red knockout roses were still blooming, along with lavender and black-eyed susans. Karen had planted yellow and amber colored mums a few weeks ago, and the garden looked lovely.
"Grandma loved our yard as much as her own. She was always doing something out here," Anna said as she gazed at the flowers. "When she lost her strength, she would just sit here by the angel garden and breathe in its beauty. She said she wanted to spend as many of her last days as possible communing with nature. She would bring her journal with her and write. I asked her what she wrote about, and she simply said, 'Life.' She encouraged me to keep a journal, but I told her I wasn't much of a writer. She laughed and said that the beauty of keeping a journal was that it was personal. 'It's your thoughts, feelings, and ideas that no one will grade or even comment on. I know whatever I write is just for me. It helps me keep things in perspective if I write it down,' she would say. She was really a special person," Anna said proudly.
"I know. I loved her too," Maddie said softly, "Remember when we super glued ourselves together?" Both girls laughed, remembering how they had purposely glued their hands together so Maddie wouldn't have to go home.
"Grandma was frantic trying to unstick us! She called three people before she learned how to get us free. It's a good thing there was nail polish remover in the house. I don't think she could have held up much longer. As I think back, she didn't babysit us for quite a while after that," Anna said. It felt good to remember the fun times. The girls sat in comfortable silence, enjoying the beautiful fall day and thinking about Anna's grandmother.
"I bet I missed a lot at school this week. I know something is due for Ms. Peters on Monday. What is it?" asked Anna.
"We need to bring resource material to class for our research projects. We turned in our topics yesterday. Ms. Peters said to bring three resources, and we can have class time to read and take notes. Some of the topics sound really interesting. I'm going to like presentation day. Are you still thinking about researching angels?"
"Yes. I got one book at the library, and Grandma has two bookcases full of books. There has to be at least two about angels in there. What topic did you finally decide to research?"
"McCarthyism. Mr. Biggs told us that Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible as an allegory to the Salem Witch Trials. I want to learn more about Senator McCarthy and why people here in the United States were so afraid of Communism. It was called the Red Scare," said Maddie knowingly as if she were about to teach.
"I don't understand Communism," confessed Anna. "All I know is that it is the type of government that China has, and people don't have much freedom."
"I don't know why this happened, but during the 1950s, a person in the United States could be arrested or lose his job if he was thought to be a Communist. Mr. Biggs said that Arthur Miller was questioned about his political beliefs by the McCarthy committee, and so were a lot of other people in the theater business. It was a modern-day witch hunt, only Senator McCarthy was looking for Communists instead of witches," said "Professor" Maddie in a very serious tone of voice.
"I'm impressed. You seem to know a lot already. Speaking of The Crucible, do rehearsals begin on Monday?"
"Yeah. It's really going to be fun. I think you would have made it if you had been able to try out," Maddie said, and then added, "It would be more fun if you were in it too."
"Thanks, but I needed to be here for Grandma," Anna paused before continuing. "The doctor thought she had at least three more months. He was wrong about that. Mom said she is glad Grandma's last day was spent by the garden instead of in a hospital bed. I know she's right, but ..." Anna's voice faltered. She swallowed, and then she spoke. "I think it is great you're playing Elizabeth Proctor. Did Alison Bates make it? She was awesome when she read in drama class."
"Yeah, she made it. She's pretty good," Maddie said begrudgingly.
"You are too funny," Anna said laughing. "I can't believe you haven't gotten over her going out with Pete Saunders. You dumped him! What did you expect?"
"I just think if she had really been my friend she wouldn't have been so quick to rush in and grab him. Who knows, we might have gotten back together," Maddie said, trying to defend herself.
"You dumped Pete so you could go out with Will! Remember? Pete only went out with Alison to get back at you! Everyone knew it," Anna shook her head and continued. "You are truly crazy, but I love you anyway." Anna was so thankful that Maddie was with her and helping her reenter into their world of teenage drama. Being Maddie's friend meant there was always some event to prepare for or some crisis to live through, and right now she welcomed it. She wanted her chest to stop hurting, and she wanted to laugh and feel normal again.
Anna knew she had been outside long enough, so she and Maddie returned to the house. People were beginning to leave, and both girls started clearing the table and putting things away. There was enough food left for a week. It was nice that it was Saturday, and they could sleep in the next day.
After everyone left, Anna and her mother collapsed on the couch. "I think Mom would have been pleased with the service," said Karen. "I wonder if she was here today."
"Are you kidding?" asked Anna uncertainly.
"No, I'm quite serious. From what I have read, some deceased do attend their funerals," replied Karen thoughtfully.
"How would anyone know that?"
"Because there are people who have the ability to see the deceased. I've read books about it. You believe the spirit lives on after the body dies, right?" asked Karen.
"Yes," answered Anna cautiously.
"So, the spirit can visit just about anywhere it wants to, I guess. I read that many deceased loved ones linger around their family members for a while, trying to comfort them from the other side. That makes sense to me. I read about people who knew they were going to die, and they told their loved ones to watch for a sign that would indicate they were still with them," explained Karen.
"That is pretty amazing. Is that stuff in Grandma's books?" asked Anna as she reached for the cookie plate on the coffee table.
"Yes. Try the coconut ones; they're really good," Karen said glancing at the cookies. "Grandma read many spiritual books. I'm not sure how many she has."
"Did Grandma give you a sign to watch for?"
"No. We didn't even talk about it. I think I just knew I would know when she was around," Karen said softly with tears in her eyes.
Anna waited a few minutes and asked, "Would it be all right if I read some of her books? I'd like to use them for my English class. I decided to research angels," Anna said as she looked at her mother for a reaction.
Karen titled her head and gave Anna a curious look. "Why did you choose angels?"
Excerpted from Hummingbirds, Pennies, and Hope by Jeanne Lemmon Skinner Copyright © 2012 by Jeanne Lemmon Skinner. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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