The Mountain Times

°F Sat, April 19, 2014

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Pennies from Heaven

Find a penny, pick it up
All the day, you'll have good luck!

I stopped this morning on my way to work to purchase my weekly lottery tickets. This was the morning after the largest Powerball jackpot in history had two winning tickets drawn - neither of them mine. Always the optimist, I felt buying my tickets the next morning was a lucky move since all other lottery players would be home sulking over not winning a half a billion dollars. I was going to get a jump start.

As I was leaving the convenience store, the only place I ever buy my tickets because it is my lucky, locally-owned location, I had a funny feeling I was going to find money on the ground. Sure enough, halfway to my car I saw it - a penny. Luckily it was on heads, so I did not have to agonize over whether or not to pick it up. For years I refused to pick up a penny that was on tails for fear the old wives' tale would come true and I certainly did not need to bring any bad luck into the picture. (I was also careful not to step on any cracks in the parking lot.)

As I stooped to pick it, the little ditty about finding a penny came into my head. Not only did I convince myself that I would indeed have good luck wrapped up for the day, I also thought about the days when a penny was actually worth something. Today a penny has almost become a throw away item. Few will stop to pick one up off the ground and many will tell the cashier to "keep the pennies" if they have change coming.

I remember Trick or Treating as a child and carrying a UNICEF box. These would be given to us at school by our teachers, the Sisters of Saint Joseph. In addition to candy, we would ask neighbors to make a donation for the United Nations Children's Fund and the hopefully full box would be returned to our teacher the next day. Typically, it was filled with pennies. Sometimes neighbors would simply throw pennies into our trick-or-treat bag in anticipation of the UNICEF request. So when it went in the bag instead of the box, whose pennies were they?

I don't recall ever having that little cardboard box filled to the brim with pennies. Today, you could probably fill it to overflowing by simply walking through a few store parking lots and picking up all those unwanted, and possibly discarded, little Lincoln heads. But back in the 50's, pennies were just as important as nickels and dimes and we recognized their value.

Pennies played a big role in my childhood, well as big a role as the little coin can play. I remember visiting my aunt and cousins; they lived in the apartment above my grandparents. As I look back now, I realize my aunt was a hoarder. But I distinctly remember large glass jars overflowing with pennies in every room. I am sure it was her intention to someday roll them all and bring them to the bank. There were probably thousands of dollars of pennies in that apartment. How ironic that my aunt died a pauper - or should I say penniless.

When I stayed with my grandmother, we always played card games and Bunco. My favorite card game was called Help Your Neighbor and it required throwing pennies into the "pot" which was usually a glass ash tray in the middle of the table. The pot would grow during the game with the last man standing taking the winnings. There were times I may have won twenty to thirty pennies. It was the equivalent of a million dollars to a six-year-old, especially since the candy store on the corner was filled with penny candies. I could give new meaning to the term "kid in a candy store" after winning a few good hands.

Kids in my day could still be bribed with pennies. Our neighbor, Nick Tusa, had the lushest lawn on the block. It resembled rich pile carpeting. He seeded and fertilized it during the appropriate seasons and he watered it faithfully every day. You would be hard-pressed to find a weed in that lawn. With no kids of his own, Mr. Tusa had a sly scheme to keep that yard weed-free. He would hide pennies in the grass - deep down so they were really tough to find. Then he would invite all the kids on the block to come to try and find the pennies. The caveat was you had to pull any weeds if you saw them, but any pennies you found were yours to keep. This man was a genius and he had us all bamboozled into thinking we were just playing a fun game. Try getting a kid today to pull weeds for a penny?

As we Boomers get older, our priorities shift. For this particular Boomer, material things have lost their luster. Today, it's more about spending time with my family, spoiling my grandchildren, going to a job that allows me to do the things I love and working on my bucket list. And sometimes a little luck thrown in for good measure is a nice blessing. So whenever I see a penny - yeah, I'm stopping to pick it up.