I have this penchant of picking up coins wherever they lie. A lonely penny in a dirty parking lot, or several coins that someone has decided it easier to toss than save or spend. I have even been guilty of looking through other people’s pocket full of change for something worth trading for. As a kid, I remember standing in lunch line and someone paying for their lunch with some silver coinage. Back then, lunch was 40 cents – just a quarter, dime and nickle… When I saw the coins, I immediately swapped my useful coins for the silver and skipped lunch! I remember being in Texas (someone else will have to remind me of the specific location) at a Rose Festival parade that my grandmother just enjoyed going to. It was hot… We were thirsty… Mom or Dad gave us a dollar and told us to get change and buy everyone a soda. Back then, a soda was only 10 cents – just two nickles or a dime put into the machine would give back the 6 1/2 ounce bottle of Coca Cola. A lady sitting by the machine gave us change – all Mercury head dimes. My brothers and I ran back to our parents asking for more bills to exchange for the dimes. By the time we convinced them of the importance of the transaction, the lady had moved on. We were (…I was…) so disappointed. I remember an uncle and a cousin who always seemed to have coins lying around, and how much I always wanted to sift through the old coins.
Around the age of 6, I received a coin book for birthday/Christmas and had so much fun filling it and all the subsequent coin books up with the aged coins. I own a 1909 penny – not worth much, but I do enjoy looking at this part of history every so often and trying to understand all the hands that held it, and the things it was spent for. Penny candy comes to mind. It used to be you could buy a lot of candy for just a penny. We would go on a trip and mom would give us a dollar or so and tell us to run down to the store and pick up some penny candy for snacks. A number 12 brown bag would be nearly half full. This was the same brown bag we used to carry school lunches… Lot’s of candy!
Just the other day I was at my dry cleaners picking up and dropping off. They had one of those little change holders by the register. You know the kind – Leave a penny if you have extra, take a penny of you need one… I always drag my fingers through these things and look for the old and perhaps collectable findings. On this one day, this tired old penny caught my attention. I turned it over and sure enough it was a “wheat” penny. The date was very worn, and after asking for permission to trade for the penny, I took it outside in better light and still could not decipher the date. I took it home and used one of my nifty magnifying lenses (I will write about my collection of these things another time) and to my surprise the date is 1920!
That means the penny was 91 years old! (I found it in November of 2011) It was not even created when Henry Morgan was born! My dad’s oldest surviving sister is 90 (I think) and so this penny is older than her. I began to imagine the years this little penny has survived, all the reasons it was spent, and what other people had held it in their hands with anticipation of what it could be spent for.
Too many times we do not let our imagination soar! To imagine the first time someone picked up and used something, or what was their motivation or need, or even what desperate situation were they dealing with?
- My grandmother kept an old shoebox of recipes she had cut out, or someone had sent her, or she had written down on note cards. The box had been taped up several times to retain it’s shape, but under the tape were recipes written on the cardboard! Imagine her writing on the inside of the lid of that ol’ box!
- My wife and I like to look at antique shops, and we found a draw full of old photographs and began to imagine who they were, and why were they having this photo taken! Why did they end up in an antique shop?
- I have collected a few old camera’s in my day, and I envision the photographer and the subject and my imagination just rolls through all the potential.
Somewhere it seems we have lost our desire for imagining things from perhaps the most inconsequential of items around us. We let Hollywood paint their CGI effects on movies and tell us what things look like. I still like to read the words and imagine it for myself! Perhaps this is why comic books never held much sway over me, but give me a Hardy Boy’s and I’ll imagine every nook and corner of their written world.
If our children will be told what everything looks like, I believe that perhaps their imagination will be limited to only someones technical ability and only a few will have the skills to build the images to feed the world.
So, I look at this penny in my hand and I imagine all the trips it has taken from pocket to store to change to pocket. What was it traded for? How many have held it? After all, it’s only been 91 years in the making!