It was a tiny little town of about 600 people. It was located in the middle of nowhere. Not much ever happens there. It was much like any other small town found throughout the United States. For all you know, this could be your very own town we are talking about today.
Our little town is known as Juniper Junction. We have everything we need to survive but none of the frills of some of the big cities nearby. We don’t even have a stoplight here in town. After all, not many people drive through our sleepy little hometown. But it is quaint. We have our little country church (steeple and bells just like in the pictures), a Farmer’s Market where we can get all we need to eat, a doctor who still makes housecalls (and acts as the village veterinary when needed), a Post Office, a diner and a few little stores. Best of all, everyone here knows everyone else. What more do we need?
Okay, sometimes the children find our town a bit boring, but that’s where are story really begins.
Let’s set the stage – Penelope Petunia is her name. She is a very old and petite woman, hunched over with fingers gnarled from arthritis. She is all alone in this world. Her husband of over 50 years recently left her to go onto his heavenly home. They never were blessed with children of their own so there is noone to call her mama. But this isn’t supposed to be sad. She is loved by all in town – the young and the old alike. It was Penelope and her husband who taught many of the town’s children their Bible lessons every Sunday for 40 years. For this reason, many in the town call her "Grandma Penelope". Her love has touched more people in this little town than many others will ever touch in a lifetime. What a legacy to leave when she parts from this world.
Penelope’s home is quite small, but around town it is referred to as "Penelope’s Palace" because it is so overflowing with love that it feels like there are no walls holding you inside. It is hard to explain the feeling one gets when stepping into her home except to say that there is so much love in her home that you feel as if you could burst if you tried to hold even a small portion of it in. Penelope doesn’t hold any of it in for herself – all of it is spread out to others – she radiates warmth and love just by being in a room. By the time someone leaves her home, they can’t help but be filled with love as well.
Not only is her home the center of love for the town, but it is also the center of activity for the children. Grandma Penelope’s Palace is the place to go for fun. When boredom strikes everyone knows they can always find something going on at her house. Whether it is a day for making crafts (although with her arthritic fingers, Grandma Penelope now talks the kids through the crafts rather than doing them alongside the kids), learning old-time games or listening to Grandma Penelope as she spins her famous tales of various legends and morals wrapped up in love and laughter – everyone knows Grandma Penelope’s Palace is the coolest place in town.
On this particular day Percy just couldn’t seem to do anything right. He was constantly fighting with his younger brother, always at odds with anything anyone said (even if he really agreed with them deep down). It seemed like everyone had some kind of recommendation on how he should control his anger so he tried them – each and every one of them, but nothing seemed to work. He walked away from his brother when the fighting began but his little brother just followed him out of the room. He tried to ignore him (we all know how that one goes – easier said than done) but it wasn’t so easy to ignore someone who kept sticking their nose right into your face. He tried counting to ten like all the grown-ups kept telling him to do but all he ended up doing was getting more frustrated when his brother would call out the wrong number to try and mess him up. He tried blowing all the anger out from inside his belly – that almost worked. He actually laughed for a few minutes after that attempt but then along came baby brother again teasing him about how silly he looked doing that and he ended up madder than before. What’s a little kid to do?
Finally he had enough and he ran out of the house, jumped on his bicycle and began to pedal. Where he was going he didn’t have a clue. He just peddled as fast as he could for as long as he could. Before he knew it he was exhausted. He stopped peddling, fell off his bicycle and lay on the soft, wet grass and just called out to no one in particular "Help, I can’t take it anymore". He really didn’t expect an answer. He was only venting his built up frustrations. Needless to say, he was rather shocked (well, actually he was a bit scared) when out of nowhere a small voice called out to him saying "come inside I think I have just the right story for you."
Percy slowly lifted his head, peered around quietly trying to see where the voice came from, but all he could see was a tiny house up on the hill behind him. Again he heard the voice beckoning to him but this time it was a bit louder. He tried again. Slowly he rose to his feet glancing from left to right and back again until finally he spotted her – rocking ever so slightly up on the porch of that tiny house. Percy concentrated really hard, he was sure he recognized her but he couldn’t quite place where he was. She must have sensed his hesitation so she called out and told him who she was.
Immediately upon hearing the name Grandma Penelope, Percy’s face lit up. Since moving into town a few months ago, Percy has heard all about the woman but he had never before been lucky enough to see her. In fact, he was started to doubt she even existed. By now, his excitement had grown so strong he found himself running up the hill towards her, forgetting all about his bicycle.
When he arrived up the hill, Grandma Penelope slowly rose from her chair and invited young Percy into her home. Normally, Percy knew that he was not supposed to go into a stranger's home but everyone here knew of Grandma Penelope and even his mother had spoken of how much she was loved by all. Percy was still a bit angry but mostly he was excited to find out more about what Grandma Penelope had in store for him.
When he walked into her home he was stunned at how beautiful it was. There was so much color in everything. Everything seemed to fit perfectly and just screamed out "Love and Happiness". Instantly, Percy began to relax and began to tell Grandma Penelope why he was so angry and how he could never figure out how to express himself nicely when he was angry. All he ever did was end up in more trouble than before.
Grandma Penelope gently took his chin in her old, gnarled hands, looked into his eyes all moist with tears and told him not to worry, she knew exactly what he needed. She asked him if he would like to help her bake a snack while they talked. Naturally, after hearing snack, Percy readily agreed.
Percy took hold of Grandma Penelope's hand and walked slowly into the kitchen. As Grandma Penelope pulled out all of the ingredients they would need she asked Percy if he liked pretzels. " Of course, what boy doesn't?", he answered her as he laughed. All the ingredients were mixed and now came the fun part-twisting - the dough into pretzel shapes.
As Grandma Penelope picked up the first roll dough, she as Percy if he believed in God. " Since forever", he told her. "What about talking to God-you ever do that ? ", she asked. Percy stopped and thought before he said to her "Every night my mom or dad say my prayers with me. Before we eat our meals we always bless our food and thank God for it and I learned about " popcorn prayers" from Sunday School-is that we mean?" "Popcorn prayers", asked Grandma Penelope " what are those?" "Well if I ever think of something that makes me happy I am supposed to stop and say thank you to God for it. Or if something makes me scared at night I can stop whatever I'm doing and ask God to help me not be so scared. Sometimes I remember to do it but lots of times I forget" said Percy.
Grandma Penelope looked down at Percy and placed her hand upon his head and told him that was exactly the sort of thing she was talking about. Then they spoke about how Percy felts after he talked to God-didn't he always feel better, less scared, less angry, happier or safer? The whole time she was speaking, Percy was nodding his head excitedly. "Yes, that's exactly how I feel. "
Grandma Penelope told him she had an idea as to how he could remember to pray to God more often.
As they began to roll the dough out Grandma Penelope began to tell Percy all about how pretzels came into being. She told him about an Italian monastery from a long, long time ago (way before anyone in their little town was even born). There was a young monk who was making unleavened bread to use during their season of Lent. As he was making the bread, he noticed all the little scraps of dough that remained and he began to play with them and twist them into all different shapes. He wasn't really trying to create anything special, he was just playing with the dough and talking to God at the same time. All of a sudden a wonderful thought hit him and his fingers began twisting the dough. When he was done, he looked down and saw that the shape had taken hold and it looked just like little arms folded in prayer.
With that, Grandma Penelope showed him how to take the pretzel dough and make it into "Praying hands"-it really did look like that, didn't it? Grandma Penelope continued on with her story and told him that the monk had decided to call his new creation the "pretiola" - that means "Little reward" in Latin. He went on to make many batches of his pretiola and used them throughout Lent to give to all little children as a treat when they recited their prayers. He told them that they could use the pretiolas to remind them of their faith in God.
"Pretiola - Don't you mean pretzel?", asked Percy. Grandma Penelope chuckled ever so slightly and leaned down towards him and said "That's exactly what I mean. In English the word pretiola means pretzel. Just like you think of Popcorn Prayers, I want you to remember "Pretzel Praises". Anytime that you start to feel angry, just take a minute to think of a pretzel and you'll be reminded to stop and pray to God for help. It will remind you that nothing here on earth is worth getting so angry about. We can go talk to God and He will help us to calm down and remember that the most important thing for us to do is to keep His Commandments. That means we need to love one another-even when we're angry. Do you think you can do that as a special favor for me?"
Percy leaned over and wrapped his arms around Grandma Penelope and hugged her ever so tightly. "You're the best, Grandma Penelope. This is such a cool way for me remember my prayers. Can I take some pretzel's home to all my family and friends so I can tell them all about what the pretzel means?" " But, of course my dear one. That's exactly why we made them. Now, run along and share the Good News to everyone you know. Don't forget to come back and visit me soon". She bent them, kissed the top of his head and led him to the door.
As for Juniper Junction, it was never the same from that day forward. Every party or gathering held in town was not considered complete unless there was a giant bowl of-you guessed it-pretzels!
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