The Penny

Posted: February 13, 2011 by TheWild Webster in Fiction

(inspired by a blog post on The Nature of Value)

Grandpa used to tell the story about the penny his dad had given him.  It was more of a lecture on value than a story, but grandpa had a way with spinning a lesson into a yarn that you couldn’t help but pay attention to.

The year was 1938 and grandpa had just finished his last day of trade school when his father had pulled him aside and handed him the penny.

“This is all I’m gonna give you,” his father had told him.  “Anything worthwhile in this world is something you earn and you earn for yourself.  There’s a lot of meaning in this here penny.  Your grand father gave it to me when I came back from my first apprenticeship to open my own shop and his father before him did the same.”

Grandpa used to tell how in 1968, on my own father’s graduation, he too handed the penny down and gave dad the same lecture as well as the same implied encouragement that not only do you have to earn your own way, but you can and you will.

It wasn’t until later that grandpa let me in on the big secret.  I knew where dad kept the penny, it was in the side of his wallet.  He’d carried it with him everywhere such that there was a small circle visible on the outside on the leather surface.  He said he kept it with him always to remember the lessons of his father and his grandfather.  Whenever he felt discouraged, he would get out the penny and look at it to remember all the things they had taught him.

It when I was around 12 years old that grandpa, seemingly out of nowhere when we were fishing down at the lake, called me over.

“I’m gonna tell you a secret,” he told me in his usual mischievous fashion.  He reached down into his pocket and pulled out a 1932 penny.  He made sure I saw the date.  “You know the story about your great grandpa that I always tell?  The lessons on value.  This here is the penny he gave to me!  I still have it.  You remember that.  It might mean something someday.”

With that he cast back out his line and acted as if nothing had ever happened.  It was a few weeks later when I noticed dad’s wallet sitting out.  Curiousity overtook me and I dug out the coin.  1964!  It seemed a tad silly to me until the day that dad pulled me aside to follow the family tradition.

It was the day of the graduating class of 2004 at my college.  He followed his father’s example and gave me the same speech.  “All that you will have will be something you gained for yourself.  It will mean that much more to you when you have earned it through your own efforts,” and like his father and the fathers before them, he handed me the penny.

What had made me think of this was when a fellow employee at work noticed the penny in a frame on the wall behind my modest little desk at my entry level job.

“What’s that?” he asked with only mild interest.

“Oh it’s just a penny,” I answered.  “Something my father gave to me the day I graduated.  His father gave it to him the day he graduated and so on back down the family line.”

“Hmmm,” said the workmate, “neat!” and he turned back to the issue that had brought him by.

After my associate had finished and gone I looked back up at the penny there in the frame.  Had he paid any more attention perhaps he would notice what I looked at now.

The date on the penny read 2003.

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