O Shenandoah! Dirt Road Journal

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"The Perfect Penny"

a remembrance for my grandmother who created entrancing bedtime tales; a gift for my mother who suggested that I write children's stories; and a prayer for all who nurture the development of mind, body and spirit.

"Tell the story of the perfect penny," Dee pleaded.

Sam pulled a light blanket up and tucked it carefully around the child's shoulders. "I told you, Dee, I'm too tired. It was a long day. Wait till tomorrow. I promise I'll tell it then."

"No," Dee insisted. "You always tell it on Christmas Eve. Ple-ee-ea-se, Daddy," she begged again.

Sam heaved a weary sigh and sat near the end of her bed, leaning back against post and footboard. "Okay, but you have to start it," he directed. "How does the story begin?"

"Once upon a time..." Dee paused.

"Come on," Sam grinned. "I need more than that."

"...in the Land of Emuloo," Dee continued, "there was an orphan ...."

His mind clicked on the legend, "... named Tala."


She lived in the shades and shadows of tiny back alleys, and hid in the cracks of stones. Her dresses were bright tatters, threads of discarded cloth braided and woven to make a skirt or a blouse. When Tala was frightened by a dog, or even a loud-blaring horn, she disappeared and became invisible. All that anyone could see was a colored jumble of very small rags, too little to be worth stooping or reaching to pick up. Tala slept all day in her hideaways, but at night she woke. Then Tala skipped and flew to darkened doorjambs and danced along windowsills to the music of drifting clouds and constellations. Every night, she drank from streams that beamed from the moon and gathered tiny particles of gold dust that fell from distant stars. Little by little, over many years because the dust was so very small, Tala fashioned a thin and delicate round of gold. She kept it concealed in the corner of a basement window well, hid it under mouldy leaves and old pieces of board. As the circle grew, Tala scooped out a small hole toward one edge and made herself a bed. There every day, she would drift into gleaming dreams of sand-ruby castles and rides underwater on the silver backs of sea-horses that dove and pranced in Emuloo's Ocean of Sapphire Stars. Each night, she added more stargold to the round until finally it measured 16 defalins across by one defalin thick. Tala, satisfied with its size now, began to move the dust around, dancing and playing, stamping her tiny feet, swirling small arms through airborne ribbons of gold. Intricate designs soon appeared on the glistening, once-smooth circle -- leaves entwined with bells and butterflies, feathers that floated toward filigreed edges, clusters of snowflakes, unique and minute. Finally tired and content with her life's creation, Tala curled once more into the circle's bed and fell into a very deep sleep. Seeing that Tala's work was done, the angels of Emuloo flew down from their galaxy and, with a heavenly kiss, she disappeared. From that day on, Tala could only appear in the land of children's dreams.

Years passed and then, a few days before Dee's third Christmas, Sam decided to pick up around the house and to clean the two window wells for holiday decorations. He intended to fill the left one with figures of the Magi and the right one with a lighted creche: Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus. As Sam swept the left window well, something shiny caught his eye. Stooping to clear it from the debris, he picked up a coin.

"Look, Dee," he exclaimed. "A brand new penny!"

Dee peered into the palm of his hand as he held it out for her to see. Her eyes widened at the golden light. "A penny?" she asked.

Sam looked more closely. "No," he remarked with surprise, "it isn't a penny after all. It's a gold medallion of some sort."

"What's a medallion?" Dee asked, turning the coin over in his hand.

Sam smiled. "A medallion is a penny that fairies make and use in the Land of Emuloo."

Dee laughed with delight.

"What do you think, punkin?" Sam inquired, reflecting on spartan gifts that year. "I'll have it put on a bracelet and it'll be a present for Christmas this year."

"Tell me about the fairies of Emuloo, Daddy."

Sam gave himself time to spin a tale. "I'll tell you Christmas Eve when the bracelet's ready and we open presents. That way the penny will always be good luck."

Dee frowned and nodded her head yes.


"And it has been," Sam added, as he smoothed her blankets and leaned to give Dee a kiss.

"Nite, Daddy," she whispered sleepily.

He glanced at the bracelet and its medallion shining softly from her arm. "Sweet dreams, little one," he murmured and headed for packages still to be wrapped.

(Midi below: German carol)


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Original material O Shenandoah! Country Rag April, 1996. All rights reserved.