My Two Cents
Canada is retiring the penny this fall, and many think the United States will follow suit. But . . . But what about a penny for your thoughts? What about a lucky penny? What about my two cents?
The penny was how I learned about money. When I was growing up in my pink ballerina-wallpapered bedroom I had, in its own little corner, a giant metal replica of a Welch’s jelly jar; it was a bank. Year after year, I would drop pennies into it, my biggest resource being my father’s jingly pockets. I was surprised – shocked! – at 10 years old to learn, when my father took me to the “real” bank, that my pennies had amounted to almost five hundred dollars. It was a good lesson in saving.
When I got little older, most of my money came from babysitting, and was of the green variety. (Even though my rate was 50 cents an hour.) But pennies still played an vital role in my adolescent life. Way down back, that’s what we called the woods behind my house, “down back,” was a working railroad track. It ran right through the woods. Naturally, we spent countless hours putting pennies on the tracks and waiting for the train to come and flatten them. I still remember how they felt hot to the touch after the train ran them over. It was thrilling! More thrilling than Facebook.
Pennies maintained their status with me and my friends into the teen-age years. Every summer, we would relocate to the beach where, tucked behind a surf shop, was the coolest, most abundant penny candy shop you can imagine. It’s still there, I think, and is stocked to the rafters with things like atomic fireballs, sweet tarts, sugar daddies, laffy taffy and bubble gum that comes in a yardstick. It even has Mike & Ike’s, a candy my 91 year old mother remembers and loves from her childhood days. What is penny candy without a penny?
And to this day, I still pick up a penny I see on the sidewalk. Find a penny, pick it up, all day long, have good luck!
My most poignant memory of the penny, though, and why I will never want to see them go for good, has to do with a song. And a man. My father’s best friend from childhood, Joe Burke, remained his friend for all of his life. He was the police chief in the next town, and when he was a young man he looked exactly like Clark Gable. He was lovely, and kind, with eyes that smiled. And he may have been a police chief by day, but he was a singer at heart. Every wedding, every party, he would be cajoled into getting up and singing, and he always ended with Pennies from Heaven, everyone’s favorite song about pennies.
When Joe Burke died, I went to his wake, with pennies in my pocket. My plan was to send him off with some pennies to take back up to heaven. When I approached to say a prayer, and slip my pennies into his pocket, I saw that I was not the only one. Joe was surrounded by piles of pennies from head to toe. Everyone was sending him off with pennies, for heaven.