Penny Therapy

A penny saved may well be a penny earned, but a roll of pennies amounts to more than just fifty cents.

One of my earliest, clearest and happiest childhood memories involves money; lots of money – all in change. A great heap of quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies would be poured from coffee tins onto the middle of our dining room table a couple times a year. My heart would skip a beat. My palms would start to itch. I’d lick my lips eager to begin. Dad would ask, “Who wants to help me roll change?!” and by God I’d be the first in line. There was no reward. Not a scrap of that Heap-O-Cash was mine nor would any of it be mine. In fact, sometimes I’d even raid my own piggy bank to make the rolls come out even. What form of madness was this? Why was I so eager to get my hands on those piles of quarters? Why would I painstakingly count off little ten cent stacks of pennies?  What kind of weirdo kid was I?

All this money came from two sources. My parents were league bowlers. For years upon years my dad bowled on the volunteer fireman’s league every Friday night. On Wednesday’s they’d both bowl on a mixed league, usually made of husband-wife teams. I don’t remember those so well, but the Friday night ones, oh yes! Those are some of the sweetest memories I have from my youth. Every Friday night for years my best friend and I would be dropped off at the Baptist Church in Newark Valley to go to AWANA, a Bible-study group and my parents would head over to the bowling alley a block away. While we memorized verses and sang hymns to the Lord; they drank beer, cussed and bowled.  Once AWANA was over, we’d walk to the bowling alley, buy an ice cream sundae, candy, maybe a hot dog or burger and play video games until the game was done. Afterwards, we’d drop my friend off at her house and head on to ours. Or, better yet, I’d stay at her house or she’d come to mine for the night.

During these bowling extravagances team members were punished or rewarded for their efforts by means of a ‘Kitty’. I’m not completely sure of logistics, just that if you made your shot you got to keep the coins that rested on the outside of the can. If you missed, they shook the change-filled tin can and yelled, “Pay The Kitty!!” Apparently people missed a lot because that Kitty filled out pretty quickly, at least from my recollections.

Another type, and I suspect the larger of the two, of coin collection was in the form of the ‘Coffee Can’ that my dad was in charge of at work. Back in the days before vending machines and cafés had appeared in every nook and cranny of work life, folks were required to bring in their own coffee, own brewer and own pastries.  Once the initial expanse of buying these things was covered, the Coffee Can came into play. You’d pay a nickel or dime for your cup of coffee and the same for a donut using the trust system. No one manned the can or kept a till count. At the end of each month, my dad would lug that can of change home, pour it out on the table and then the fun would begin!

Mom would quite often help. Sometimes my brother would chip in but most of the time it was just me and my dad to the bitter, coppery end. We’d sit at the table, count change, talk, joke and laugh. It was real quality time together. No one bothers you much when they know you are trying to count change and it always seems to be easier to talk about things when your hands are busy. There would be long bouts of silence too as we each became one with Midas. Counting out loud was deeply frowned upon.

I have no doubt that to this day this is why I love to count and roll coins. It reminds me of my youth and time well spent with my dad. It’s a quiet, thoughtful time when nothing mattered but making rows of pennies, ten cents high, Penny Therapy, you could call it.

When Jim announced it was time to dump and count the change jar he has on his bedside table, a little spark of SQUEE! zipped through me. I have a big jar of pennies I need to roll up, too. YEAH! I started with Jim’s change last night and was amazed at how much money was actually in that little jar of his. It’s all going towards Christmas present for his daughter and grandkids so I am more than happy to help him out with the process.  Mine will probably be spent on groceries or the tags we need to stick on our garbage bags for pick-up each week. Yeah, wild and crazy spenders are we. Not a lot of things will send me on an unplanned trip to the Dollar General on a cold, Sunday afternoon when my car is covered with snow or find me trudging down to the bank first thing Monday morning, but apparently the quest for more change rollers is one such thing.

Back home the neatly stacked dimes, nickels and pennies from Jim’s change jar await me. Once these are done, my own jar(s) will come out of hiding and yield up their goods. Where else could you get Penny Therapy during the holidays?  I guess it really is money well spent, or in this case, rolled. Lucy Van Pelt would be proud.

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