« Q and No A's | Main | Dogs Back in the Good Old Days »

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Almost Worthless

By Johna Ferguson

Pennies have always fascinated me. When I was young, each one represented a piece of candy I could choose from the big glass jar in the grocery store my mother shopped at. The colored sticks, about six inches long, were all so beautiful it was hard to choose which one I wanted but since they weren’t individually wrapped, I had to choose before the shopkeeper would open the jar for me.

I can still taste my favorite, the bright red hot cinnamon ones that made my entire mouth tingle with pleasure long after I’d finished licking it down to nothing.

I remember when copper was needed in the Second World War so the pennys changed color to a dull gray. They weren’t bright and shiny so it was difficult to find them on the sidewalk if one dropped one. But at that time, a penny still bought things so people were careful about putting them safely in their pockets.

My friends and I used to look for lost pennies on the ground as we walked to and from middle school, not for candy but to put on the train tracks which ran down below our houses. Our mothers forbid us to go down there, but of course that only added to the lure of the danger.

We’d check for trains by putting our ears to the rails and then place three or four pennys on the rails, stand back and patiently wait for a train to come by on either of the tracks. Some coins ended being pushed off the rails, but others were squashed into quarter-sized coins of various shapes.

These we’d hide from out mothers so they wouldn’t know where we’d been and then later, we’d trade them for more interesting things with other friends.

After school days came marriage and my husband and I were very poor to start with and every penny counted towards a ten-cent cup of coffee he wanted while traveling or something equally as special. But as time passed and he earned more and more money, pennies were left in a dish on his bureau for the boys to have.

Being a frugal mother, I decided to get them each a penny book so they could start saving one of each year. Maybe, if they kept the books for a long time they might be worth much more than the actual penny value.

They looked for old ones, Indian head ones, but seldom did they find one; too many other people had started collecting before them.

Then they all left home and married and now lead their own lives but recently, I asked about their penny books. The middle son still has his, but the other two seem to have lost theirs in moves from place to place.

So now it is their mother who looks for pennies; certainly not to buy a stick of candy. So why, when I don’t need the money, do I still persist in looking for them? I am not really a superstitious person, but I nevertheless believe if I find a penny it will bring me good luck. Therefore when I go out for my daily walk I always search for them.

My walks take me on busy sidewalks outside many different kinds of shops, banks and past parking meters. Sometimes I find a dime or a quarter, but I never count on any good luck from them but at least once or twice a week I find a penny.

They are hardly worth anything now so people are rather careless with them; if a penny misses their pocket they are too lazy to bend down and pick it up. If I’d saved them all in a jar I might have enough to buy a month’s bus pass in my city but for me, it’s purely the pleasure of finding something that is practically worthless and yet have that small priceless coin so brighten my day.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Johna, I also am an inveterate penny collector -- always have been, always will be! I call them "Lucky Pennies" and I stick them in an empty pill container in my dresser drawer. This keeps them differentiated from just regular pennies, which truly are worthless. I find most of mine in the parking lot between Starbucks and Ralphs supermarket. People younger than we are wouldn't stoop to retrieve a dropped penny -- but it is their loss and my gain! Thanks for the good memories.

My wife and I save all our pennies all year, and then find a tricky way to hide them on Christmas eve. Our son is greeted Christmas morning with the gift of "pennies from Santa."

It's a fairly old tradition--it started when our son first was old enough to open a present. He's 48 now. Pennies still are worth a lot in our little family.

Thanks for the lovely story, Johna.

In new Zealand, there are no pennies--a nickel is the smallest coin value.
I use pennies when i can to avoid getting even more pennies.

Johna - Great memory-jogging story!

It encouraged me to rummage through the attic to find an old shoe box stuffed with old bills I found in my grandparent's house 50 years ago, all dated around 1905. Here are just a few examples: lamb 19 cents a pound, veal 20 cents a pound, steak 28 cents a pound, quarterly electric bill $4.32, double bed sheet 60 cents, new Flexible Flyer child's sled $1.75.

No wonder Ben Franklin once said, "A penny saved is a penny earned"! - Sandy

I enjoyed reading this story, Johna. I felt I was right there with you walking with bright eyes seeking the small treasure. Thank you.

We had a childhood custom that I still observe today.

If we saw a penny on the street and it was heads up,that meant good luck and we would put it in our pocket.

If the penny was tails up that was bad luck so you would turn the penny over and leave it where it was on the street for the next person to find it in the good luck position. Then, doing that brought YOU good luck.....

The comments to this entry are closed.