When it comes to money found, I’ve actually had a pretty good career. Finding the folding stuff is rare, but I do recall a fiver once found in the grass off West Elm and, just last fall, a couple of stray dollars blowing along in the breeze on Vine Street in Oxford, the street where I used to live during my Miami Redskin collegiate days.
Ordinarily, however, the money I find doesn’t stand out the way green presidential paper does or silver coins. Instead, most of my found money is the blend-in penny, a coin that some believe is knocking on the door of obsolescence.
In the true spirit of how I live my life, having adopted the motto long ago that life is indeed a scavenger hunt, whenever I see those small brown circles on my sidewalks and parking lots or inside buildings, I’ll always stoop and snag.
Of course, we savvy penny “snaggers” know when to be extra observant. Outside, that would be where there are lines designating parking slots, since coins tend to fall out when people pull keys from their pockets, and inside, that would be around vending machines, where coins come out and disrespected pennies often wind up left behind just below the machines.
I suppose I’ll always pause for the penny because I’m old enough to remember the penny-rich proverbs that predate my existence, such as “A penny earned is a penny saved” and, of course, I don’t ever want to find myself “without two pennies to rub together.”
Certainly, much of the talk I hear nowadays about the penny comes in the form of debate about its role as viable currency and about whether it should be phased out, especially because, according to the U.S. Mint, it actually costs more to make a penny than it’s worth. However, I’ve grown fond of them over time.
And, in my own history with the penny, I can remember the coin both fondly and regretfully.
As for the pleasant, I’m certainly old enough to remember true penny candy. While living in my birth city of Chicago, actually just outside on the city’s southwest side in Oak Lawn, there, within walking distance of our house, was a small drug store with a wide array of candy priced at just a penny per piece. Peering through the glass counter and smacking my lips, with big sis Joannie standing right beside me, I gazed upon those sweet treats — root beer barrels, Swedish red fish, pairs of sweet wax lips, fire balls and, my favorite, red licorice whips.
Last fall, while vacationing on The Cape, I was in the charming town of Chatham and saw an actual store called The Penny Candy Store. Excitedly, I headed in, thinking perhaps that such an outlet may still exist for those historically frugal New Englanders with sweet teeth. However, I left, chagrined, after realizing that the prices of the candy were certainly not representative of the name on the storefront.
As for my regretful penny story, it occurred three years after my family made the move to Lima in 1958, and it’s the story of a 10-year-old quintessentially sore loser, who’d just lost the first wager he ever made.
I made the 25-cent bet with my dad, during the culmination of March Madness in 1961. The Jerry Lucas-led Buckeyes were trying to repeat as NCAA National Champions and were favored to vanquish the Bearcats of Cincinnati, especially because the greatest Bearcat of all, Oscar Robertson, had graduated the previous year. For much of the game, my Buckeyes and I were ahead, but after missing a chance to win at the end of regulation, UC outlasted Ohio State, winning in overtime, 70-65.
My dad, a notorious needler, did some crowing over his win and left me to ponder my lost wager and went to bed chuckling, shutting the bedroom door down at the end of the only hall in our small Latham Avenue ranch.
In an act of stupidity that I still think about today, I remember going to my room, pushing aside dimes and quarters in the Hellmann’s Mayo jar that doubled as a piggy bank to find and count out 25 pennies. Then, I went out in the hall and flung them down the hall at the door, yelling through tears of defeat and frustration, “Here’s your money!”
I can still hear the way the pennies sounded hitting the wood of the door, a sound that shattered the tomblike silence that comes in houses after the clock strikes 11. To this day, I remain astonished at the restraint of a father, who, somehow, understood a boy’s first lost bet, forgave an anger-laced tantrum and never emerged from that room to lay the heavy hand of discipline on his namesake’s backside.
And, so it is, in the true spirit of another phrase that dates back centuries, “A penny for your thoughts,” you just got some of mine, coated, of course, with a layer of copper.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.