By Paul Kielich
When my son Kris was 10 years old, my wife and I decided to take a weekend trip. Our itinerary included the City of Corning with its museum of glass, and then we would head over to Elmira to see where Mark Twain spent his summers, writing classics like “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”
After a long day of visiting the museum and seeing Twain memorabilia, it was suggested by the docent we visit the cemetery where Twain is buried. On the way there I remember my wife telling our son about the required respectful behavior and proper etiquette while in the cemetery.
Kris was tired, impatient and definitely not listening. As we drove in, the signs directed us to the spot where the great American author was laid to rest.
Our son exited the car quickly, making his way toward Twain’s gravesite; we followed behind. As we arrived my son noticed a shiny new penny carefully placed on top of Twain’s headstone. It was placed as a remembrance by someone who sought to express a personal connection across time. Kris grabbed the penny and held it up like an Olympic gold medal and said, “Look what I found!”
My wife shot back immediately saying, “Put that back; that’s not for you.”
Well, our son, to put it mildly, was not going to part with his newly discovered riches, believing in his heart that “I found it and I’m going to keep it.”
My wife was in no mood to debate the logic of a 10-year-old and demanded he put the penny back. What I thought was going to be a solemn and peaceful way to end our visit was turning out to be an escalating, no-holds-barred dust-up between my wife and son.
After a couple of minutes of verbal volleys, I began to notice the wind blowing in a most unusual, undulating motion, back and forth, back and forth. So much so that I observed the tops of the trees swaying. Then the quality of light seemed to change from harsh direct sunlight to a warm ambient glow. It was in that moment of enchantment that I felt the spirit of Mark Twain. He was among us, both enjoying the fracas between my wife and son, but more importantly anointing that moment in time and memory.
I don’t know whatever happened to that penny or even how the argument ended, probably in a stalemate. But I will never forget that feeling of a spiritual presence among us.
And that 10-year-old kid who refused to surrender the penny? He grew up, read and studied Twain in high school before attending SUNY Geneseo, where he majored in journalism. He became a freelance writer, contributing pieces to several Buffalo publications. He then took a job as an arts and entertainment editor for a small Maryland newspaper.
I have no scientific evidence to back it up, but I believe the “penny incident” was somehow instrumental in Kris' becoming a writer.
Since my son has moved away, we don’t get together as often as I would like. When we last spoke about the “penny incident,” my wife and son always recall that argument. But I still see everything swaying in a graceful rhythm surrounded in a warm glow of ethereal light. All of us embraced by a loving spiritual presence and a great American author.
Paul Kielich, who lives in West Falls, experienced the spirit of Mark Twain on a visit to Elmira.