Last year’s pandemic-driven coin shortage wasn’t the first time coins were in short supply. I am pretty sure the Feds had to spit out some extra nickels and dimes in 1978 when the 5-gallon glass water jug in the corner of my parent’s bedroom brimmed full with shiny Abraham Lincoln’s, Thomas Jefferson’s, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s, and George Washington’s. As a little girl, I not only learned about U.S. Presidents who donned the face of each coin, but I even gaged my upper body strength by attempting to move the jug from the indentation it made on Mama and Daddy’s blue and green shag carpet. I still mournfully regret the Saturday that my fire and fury from being told to dust the house led to the jug’s demise.
Yet there were more places to shore up coins in the Hall house. Daddy had a drawer of sock-filled nickels, dimes and quarters for weekend card games with my mama’s side of the family. He always let me tag along for Nickel Poker Night and was intent on teaching me how to play. I learned the strategies of a good card game at my great aunt and uncle’s smoke-filled kitchen table. I also honed the art of the good poker face and relished in the laughter and play-by-play recap that followed the last hand played.
I believe it was here that I also first loved the sounds of classic country music. Uncle Tom would sometimes take a short break from the card table to strum his guitar and sing a song or two with an ash-tipped lit cigarette firmly dangling from his lips. On the rare occasions he was joined by his brothers, the sound was worthy of a night at the Ryman.
Those coins stretched much farther than just weekend poker playing. There was always enough change clinking in Daddy’s pockets to buy me a pack of nabs and a Coke at his favorite gas station hang out. He made sure I had enough quarters to play Pac-Man and foosball at the Rollerdome too. And I never went anywhere without enough change to call home.
Daddy would often chastise me when I walked by a penny in a parking lot without picking it up.
“But Daddy, it’s tail-side-up. Those are always bad luck. And besides, it’s just a penny,” I’d explain.
“Well you’d be one-cent richer than you were before,” he’d reply while bending down to pick it up, tail-side-up or not. From a man who stored pennies in his tattered socks, this didn’t surprise me at all.
See a penny, pick it up, and all the day, you’ll have good luck.
Yet it took a little more than luck for me to start picking up pennies.
It was a sad day that called me to the hospital to bid farewell to a high school friend who was drawing his final breaths just a few short months after my dad passed away. The grief from so much loss crushed me on the way back to the car. As I was fumbling for my car keys through the barrage of tears, a copper-hued glare caught my eye glimmering at my feet. I bent down to pick it up and gently traced Abe Lincoln’s profile. A smile pushed the tears aside as I tucked the penny into my hand. I can’t explain why the simple act of finding one cent made me feel like my dad was near, but it comforted me.
My coin collection began that day.
A nickel at the grocery store, a dime at the car wash, a quarter in a pair of washed jeans.
I began putting all of my newly named “Poppy Pennies” in a plastic coin bank that was rescued from our donation pile. Adding a few cents to that jar made me happy. My husband and kids even started to pitch in the Poppy Pennies they were finding too, always gifting me the honor of dropping the coins in the jar. It was beginning to make their hearts happy too.
A penny at the county landfill. A quarter at the recycling center. Whether one cent or twenty-five, they all sparked a smile.
I have come to believe that God was teaching my dad a few things about good timing too.
Just a few months ago, I heard the words that no one wants to hear. “You have cancer.” It was a Tuesday evening and I had arranged to meet my husband at the grocery store down the road so that we could strategize about how best to tell the kids. In the quiet of the night, Kip hugged me tight. Only a shiny copper penny, illuminated by the street light, broke the silence. Kip saw it first and pointed at the ground. I bent down, picked it up and shared the words that Kip was already thinking. “Daddy is with me. I’m going to be OK.”
God was with me too. The embrace I felt that night has not yet let me go.
Daddy didn’t stop there. As I left the hospital after planning my course of treatment, a small trail of change greeted me on the walk back to the car. I found seventeen cents as I traveled the Good Friday Crosswalk. Poppy Pennies have been found at the carwash, the gas station, and under my couch cushions.
“What are you going to do with all that change?” my kids have asked.
“The better question is what are WE going to do with it.”
There’s a lot of love in that jar. Each coin serves as a little reminder of a man who loved us well, who found his purpose in our smiles, who shared kindness and goodness no matter where he traveled, and often gave me great comfort even in his silence. There is so much of him all around us.
So where is that first penny? It has a special place in my wallet.
What about the one that was shining in my darkest of nights? I carry it with me still.
It’s never far away.
He’s never far away either.