POCKET CHANGE: 1961
My Grandpa Lou would walk in the door. A kiss and then his hand would reach into his pocket. From his fingers would come a waterfall of coins clattering and clinking and plunking! I was too small to touch them. Too small to even know what they were for. All those pennies and nickels and dimes and quarters were shiny and rattley and meant for me. Spare change scooped from his pocket every night with the nonchalant precision of a soda jerk digging out a double scoop of Fudge Ripple. Once in a while a real Indian Head nickel or a steel penny, still in circulation then, would be blended into the handful, a curious and alluring whisper from his past.
What was he doing? Building, of course. Little by little, my Grandpa was building a Tower of Nickels and Dimes for me, his tiny F. W. Woolworth. Coins for my bank. Coins for my future.
ONE THIN DIME: 1966
Morning Kindergarten or afternoon, it didn’t matter. The rule was the same. You came to school with a nickel and that nickel was for one thing only. Put your nickel in the slot, twist the dial and a perfect little pint would tumble into your hand. The Milk Machine. No one ever drank white milk when there was chocolate available. Everyone drank straight from the carton.
But on the days where my mother was out of nickels and only had a dime to give me? Well there really was no choice.
I would buy a ten-cent Eskimo Pie from the Good Humor Man at the corner instead and eat it on the way to school.
I’m sure no one ever knew.
We worked all week. Toys in the toy box. Books on the shelf. All the paper napkins folded into triangles. Back and forth from the table to the sink, plate after plate after plate. Don’t forget: use two hands!
We worked all week. We waited all week.
And on Fridays we each earned a dime.
I saved them all. Collect ten for a trade with Dad for a real grown up dollar bill.
Work and save and work and save. All my dimes together bought my own Incredible Edible set. Now that I earned my own money I could even make my own food. Life was good.
HALF DOLLARS: 1972
Full of a good dinner, surrounded by those he loved best, my nattily dressed Grandpa Nate would lean back in his chair and smile.
We knew what was coming. So did he. With a sign to my grandmother a bag was procured from who knows where and it’s contents spilled out on the tablecloth.
A king’s ransom! A pirate’s bounty! A rich man’s loot!
All for us! All for us! All for us! The coins were heavy and impressive and our heads swam with the possibilities of it all! Piles of Franklin half-dollars all there for the taking. So much money. We could buy anything in the world!
But alas! Euphoria is short lived. The coins were to be treasured and to be saved, but never to be spent.
We sadly concluded that being rich has its burdens.
2-DOLLAR BILLS: 1981
If you go there, you’d better know how to order. Get in line; grab a tray and pay attention! Hey you! Do you want French fries, onion rings or fried broccoli? For your burger, double, triple, quad or quint? Your bun? Kaiser, onion, plain or WHAT? Want mushrooms, grilled onion, pickles or peppers? Order it now or forever hold your peace! And if you decide on condiments only say what you want, not what you don’t want. DO NOT MESS THIS UP!
If you follow the above rules exactly, Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger will give you the best burger on the planet. And in keeping with their Krazy ways they will often fork over a $2 bill for your change. You’d better know what to do with it! Cherish it.
PENNIES ON STREET: Always
I seem to spot them everywhere.
On the sidewalks and the side streets. Dug out of the corners of car and of the couch. They gleam at me. Heads up or heads down. I scoop them up and I save them. I squint for the dates and wonder about how many fingers have touched them, how they were lost, how much further will they travel? Little silver and copper time capsules! And they jingle in my pockets.
Is it lucky to find a penny or a coin? You tell me.
Perhaps it’s just as lucky to spot a dandelion about to curl open to the sun, lucky to notice a person who took the time to hold the door, lucky to discern meaning from the lines of a poem.
But it’s so much harder to hold those things in your hands, to jingle them in your pockets.
So I save all the coins I find, knotted into handkerchiefs in my drawers, zipped tight into a special pocket in my jacket, sometimes clutched in my fists.
I save them because I have a plan. Someday for someone I’ll dig deep into my pockets and scoop out a handful of coins. . From my fingers will come a waterfall of coins clattering and clinking and plunking. I’ll be building someone their own little Tower of Nickels and Dimes.