My dad lived in Minnesota when he died, so James and I drove up there for his funeral. When we got there, we went to my dad's home to pick up some of his things. Some friends and family members had already gone through the house and gathered anything that they thought had value, and left everything else scattered around on the floor. Among the things that these friends and family members had decided had "no value" were a framed photo of my dad and his deceased wife. Her wedding veil. Letters that they had sent to each other. The cake topper from their wedding cake.
I was handed an envelope by a relative who said, "here. I don't know if you want any of this - it's just a bunch of junk he had on him when he died." His wallet. His rings. The cross he wore around his neck.
All determined to be of no value. I gathered these items and placed them in my car and my heart kind of broke at what he had been reduced to by people who I thought loved him.
I went through the truck that had been loaded up with my dad's things and picked out the items that had been special to us. In the back, there was a large ornate wooden box. I took it, thinking that this would be where I would keep his ashes. This box reminded me of my dad.
When I opened the box, it was empty, except for a bunch of pennies at the bottom of the box...and this was really, really funny to me. My dad had fluctuated between poor and wealthy his entire life, but according to just about everyone, he had died penniless.
Except they were wrong, because here were all of these pennies.
It's funny, right?
My dad would get the joke. He really would.
I loved that box full of pennies. And so, when I took them out of the box, so that I could place my dad's ashes and the photos and the veil in there, I kept the pennies. And ever since, every time I find a penny on the ground, I feel like my dad's around. I say hello. I check the year and think about where he was then. I take it home and put it in this big jar where all of the rest of my dad's pennies reside.
Pennies connect me to my dad, in a way that we never really connected when he was alive.
Anyway, it has been nearly five years, and here I sit, making jewelry, cleaning my house, finding random pennies, and thinking about my dad.
My dad once asked me why I didn't mass produce anything and I told him that that wasn't my style. He told me that it should be, because I'd make a whole lot more money. I told him I would think about it, but it probably wouldn't happen.
And then he gave me all of these pennies. And I started stamping love on everything.
Did you know you can flatten a penny with a hammer?
You can also drill a hole through a penny. Two holes, if you feel like it.
A flattened penny is also pretty easy to stamp.
(You might be thinking to yourself, "Jessica, you're a stupid idiot, everyone knows you can't destroy currency, you're probably going to go to prison for this post!!!"
It's ok you guys. I don't think I'll go to prison. There are laws and regulations about altering money, but they're pretty specific and Officer Google has reassured me that this is ok.)
So I've taken all of these pennies that my dad keeps giving me, and I've smashed them and stamped them and I turned them into love.
And as I was turning them into love, I thought how much I loved these particular pieces. Because most people these days will tell you that pennies are worthless. Or they'll tell you what love is supposed to look like. Or they'll tell you that love should be perfect and shiny and without flaws.
But these worthless objects are beautiful. They are not worthless (we are not worthless). And they are smashed and beaten up and oddly shaped and so far from perfect. But they're love. And you can wear them around your wrist and some day that string will probably break. And you can get a new string. Maybe in a different color. Because sometimes love looks different than what you're used to.
My dad could be super fucked up, but I believe he loved me, in the best way that he could. And I love him, in the best way that I can.
In a million years I would not have guessed that someone like James would be the person that I loved more than anyone in the world... but here we are. He's my favorite.
Had you asked me 20 years ago if I would have found love in a church, I probably would have laughed at you. Maybe even gotten angry.
A year ago if you told me that I would be grateful to walk away from the job that I loved most in the world, I would not have believed you.
But love is funny. And it doesn't always look like what we think it should. And we don't always find it where we think we will.
My dad collected art and old jewelry and coins and we used to talk about maybe working together on something someday, but we never did. Until now. I think this is our project.
I think this is a gift from my dad. And I made a bunch of them, so I guess he wins... I've "mass produced" something.
(If you'd like a penny bracelet of your own, I've put them in my online shop here.)