I have a 1910 Lincoln penny. Like all Lincoln pennies minted before 1959, it is the sort with the wheat pattern on the reverse. Until this very instant (and I absolutely mean that I am thinking this for the first time) I’ve never wondered why the government of the United States of America chose to put wheat stalks on a coin. And I kind of know a lot about the Lincoln penny, as in my adolescence I was something of a fanatic coin collector. I had a very impressive collection of Lincoln pennies, dating back to their introduction the year prior to the penny in question. Those first 1909 pennies bore the initials of the designer of the coin, one Victor David Brenner, prominently displayed on the reverse. Between the freaking wheat stalks. What the hell, Victor David? What the hell?
At any rate, the folks at the mint thought the placement a bit too prominent, and it was removed. None of this really has any bearing on the story, except maybe to give credence to my claim that I know about this coin. Even the fact that I know about the coin doesn’t matter. Oh, this has started terribly.
The real reason I mentioned the penny is that 1910 was, believe it or not, a key year in my life. That was the year my grandfather, James Leonard DeBottis was born. That matters to me because without him there would have been no Muriel Althea DeBottis, who would eventually give birth to me. (She was born in 1937. I have a penny from that year as well.)
But there is a second reason. That was also the year that Mark Twain died.
I am not going to lie and tell you that I have read every book Mr. Clemens wrote. I read Tom Sawyer in seventh grade on my own volition. Huckleberry Finn was required reading in tenth grade, but for no other reason than to see if I could get away with it, I lied to the teacher and said it had been Huck that I read in seventh grade, so she allowed me to select another Twain book. And for no other reason than I liked the title, I chose Pudd’nhead Wilson.
That’s about it, I’m afraid.
It’s pretty despicable, I know. Believe me, nothing you could say will ever match the abuse I’ve heaped upon myself over this issue. And when you hear what I have to say next, you’re really going to think I’m nuts.
I have always considered Mark Twain to be my spirit guide with regard to writing.
WHAT?! YOU JUST ADMITTED YOU’VE ONLY READ TWO OF HIS BOOKS!! <– (This is you talking, by the way. You’re kinda being loud. It’s late.)
I did admit just that.
Now that you’ve calmed down a little, you may be thinking, “Well maybe because Twain died the same year his gramps was born he’s trying to come up with some lame-ass story wherein the spirit of Mark Twain was reissued to his grandfather, and thereby passed down to him. Which is cute, because he also claims to be a writer.” That’s very perceptive, a wee-bit condescending, and it’s also very wrong.
Aside from the fact that he was a phenomenal bullshitter, and from all accounts, a damn good trumpet player, my grandfather never had any literary inclinations. There was no spark of Twain in this man. Also, he was born a month before Twain died. So he got someone else’s recycled spirit.
“Okay! Okay!” you say, starting to get a little riled up again. Please don’t make me keep speaking to you about this. “Okay, so maybe it skipped a generation. Your mom, right? She inspired you?”
Well, she did inspire me. Single moms in the 1960’s didn’t get the opportunity to be on an MTV reality show and become a celebrity. They had to work twice as hard to make their kid not go through every day feeling like he was less than the other kids because there was no dad in the picture. So, hell yeah she inspired me.
But not in my writing. In fact, I don’t think she ever gave it much thought. As far as I know, she never wrote anything, and I can guarantee that she didn’t read anything I wrote. So there was no great literary changing of the guard there.
The Big Reveal
Mark Twain is my spirit guide because of the day he died. It was April 21, 1910. Fifty years to the day before I was born.
So, rather than getting to me through a couple of generations of people who could have cared less, he just hung back and waited for me.
Or that’s the story I’m telling, anyway.
I see you’re still feeling argumentative, and you want to point out that 50-year reincarnation gaps are not all that common.
Listen, if you don’t think the spirit of Mark Twain was capable of waiting for the kid he wanted to infest, then you’ve clearly read less of the man than me. And if you think 50 years is a long time for a spirit to wait around, then you’re obviously under the age of 50. Because lemme tell ya, it goes by fast. And that’s in human terms. A spirit could do fifty years with his fingers slammed in the door of dad’s old Packard, smiling all the while.
So yeah. It was a big year for me, that ol’ 1910.