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Nostalgia October 2015

Pennies Don’t Always Make Cents

By John C. Liburdi

The bank lobby shook when Gramps angrily shouted: “How will people be able to buy penny candy with that?” and “Where do the words In God We Trust appear on the bitcoin?”

My grandfather Silas is a crotchety old man, and he’s currently enjoying his seventh decade of frugal living. Grandpa Silas has always been a fanatical follower of the old adage, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Indeed, he’s the epitome of a cheapskate, but in one denomination only — the copper penny!

Gramps left his farm and has been living in our family home for the past few years. Residing with us doesn’t cost him one red cent; instead, he takes care of household projects and “mentors” us grandkids. He keeps us extremely busy with fatiguing chores; yet, he has never paid us one thin dime, let alone one of his precious pennies. We quickly realized that Gramps is the all-time greatest role model for aspiring penny-pinchers.

Here’s one small example of his miserly ways. Whenever he visits a tourist attraction, he runs a few pennies through one those machines that flatten copper coins into souvenir images. The number of pennies he transforms each year coincides with the number of names on his Christmas gift list. Obviously, there’s never been any doubt as to what us grandkids will receive from that skinflint Santa each year.

Likewise, I know why townspeople here say that Gramps is “penny wise and a pound foolish.” Whenever he does go out shopping, he avoids stores that advertise prices ending in ninety-nine cents; he just can’t bear to part with that many pennies. In fact, Gramps is so obsessed with the one-cent piece that he jumped for joy upon learning that his ancient Mercury Mining Company stock is worth only pennies on the dollar — more pennies!

Grandpa Silas touts himself as being an honest man. Nevertheless, I’ve often seen him slip his hand between the cushions of our overstuffed living room furniture, usually finding a stray penny or two each time he probed. Then there was the time he was caught stealing pennies from the courtesy change dish next to the cash register at the drugstore. The judge ruled it to be mischief and put Gramps on probation. Well, I’m pretty sure he didn’t count those coins as being lucky pennies.

I’ve always wondered why Gramps wasn’t collecting Indian head pennies; all his hoarded coins bear the image of Lincoln. So, I boldly asked him why his treasury only includes coins featuring the bearded president. He coldly replied, “I’ll start saving Indian head pennies when Geronimo’s face appears on Mount Rushmore.” Gramps turned red when I explained that Geronimo isn’t even on the penny and that he rode in Theodore Roosevelt’s 1905 inaugural parade; therefore, the Chief just might join both Teddy and Abe up on that mountain someday.

Gramps wisely has his retirement pension and Social Security payments automatically deposited in our local bank. However, the bank tellers hate it when he drops by to make a withdrawal; he always demands paper-wrapped rolls of pennies as payment. One disgruntled teller really set Gramps off when he mentioned the emergence of bitcoin virtual currency. The bank lobby shook when Gramps angrily shouted: “How will people be able to buy penny candy with that?” and “Where do the words In God We Trust appear on the bitcoin?”

At any rate, Grandpa Silas has led a charmed life. It seems that everything he ever wanted came to him without too much effort on his part. The fruits of his success became apparent when my mom (Penny) and her brother (my uncle Abe) snuck a peak at Gramps’ will last week. They’ll eventually inherit a fortune, but it’ll be in the form of pennies that Gramps routinely dropped into the dried up well over at his dormant farm. That well is nearly full after 60-plus years of dumping loads of pennies down the deep shaft.

My mom and Uncle Abe were both happily grinning about their good fortune, especially because they discovered that the monetary value of all those pennies is far less than their immense value as tons of precious recycled copper. In fact, Uncle Abe has already located a firm that will melt all the pennies down to make copper wire and tubing. 

Sadly, Grandpa Silas somehow got wind of their recycle plan. When he confronted Uncle Abe and my mom, it was obvious that their sinister scheme had generated strong resentment. Gramps sternly told them, “You two can do whatever is in your black hearts; however, just bear in mind that if you sell those copper coins as scrap metal, you’ll never again receive pennies from heaven.” Mom sheepishly turned to my frowning uncle and said, “A penny for your thoughts, Abe.”


Liburdi’s books are available at on-line bookstores and the Kindle Reader.

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