I published this story on my blog last year. But since my blog was hacked and the post disappeared I thought I would re-publish it in honour of Feb. 4, 2013 – the day the Canadian government starts phasing out the “copper” piece.
The penny died today. And despite it being taken out of circulation I keep finding one cent coins discarded on the ground. I thought most people would be pinching their pennies now in attempt to preserve them.
The penny is also a part of my younger days and continues to be, for a short time at least. My first memories of money call to mind visiting a corner shop when I was small. My sisters and I called it the Licorice Store and it was just down the street.
The shop was in Westville, Nova Scotia. It was owned by the Roys (I removed the apostrophe) and located in an old house painted green. It had creaky wooden planked floors and smelled like candy even though there were many other items sharing the space. Loaves of bread lined one wall, on a shelf in the middle of the room were your regular household items, and on the other side of the store there was a glass counter. Under that counter was all the sweets a little one could dream about.
Minty green leaves, soft yellow bananas, red marshmallow strawberries and black licorice pieces – one could be yours for just a penny. The green leaves were my favourite. But so too were the bananas and the marshmallows. My mother liked the licorice.
The fact that I could buy myself a tiny treat for all of one cent was such a simple, and cheap, pleasure. But a penny doesn’t stretch as far as it used to.
Growing up whenever I got a handbag as a birthday present, I would find a penny at the bottom of the purse. Putting money in a wallet or purse being given as a gift means you’ll never be without money. I keep that tradition even today when I give handbags to friends.
For wedding presents years ago my parents used to give knives and there would always be a penny taped to the side of the blade. This is so the knife doesn’t cut the friendship. Another custom I’ve carried on in my own life.
One Christmas my father gave me a handcrafted pin made from a penny as a present. I wore it on my coat all over Germany and France that winter. Many people remarked on it being a Canadian penny.
Throughout my life I was taught to pick up pennies lying on the ground. A rhyme reminds me why.
“Find a penny, pick it up. All day long you’ll have good luck.
“Find a penny let it lie. Need a penny till you die.”
Nowadays I walk almost everywhere I need to go. When I’m out and about I’ll stop and pick up a lonely coin left on the sidewalk or street.
In the fall the copper coins aren’t too easy to spot. Hidden from view by brown leaves. In winter shiny new pennies are easy to find. Sparkling in the snow. In spring and summer people lose change more often. So I think. They’re unencumbered by coats and jackets and things that need to be zipped up. The lighter the better and their pockets rid themselves naturally of heavy coins, especially in the heat.
A few years ago when I was living in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, my landlord remarked that someone must have lost a lot of change because he was constantly finding coins up and down the driveway. Turns out my then-boyfriend had collected his pennies and sprinkled them along my route to work. He knew how much I liked to pick up coins.
Just the other day in Calgary I picked up one penny when I was crossing the street on my way to a meeting. On my way home I found another one. The first was a rusty 1983 penny and the other was an even rustier 1978.
Penny candy remains in name only now thanks to inflation and the economy and all. And with the actual penny on the way out – we might lose our one cent traditions. And you can’t put a price on that.