Now we were traveling home. It was one of those times between us that can only be described as pensive. There is a lot of dissonance going on in life and it’s a great ballast to get out of this world to experience renewal, all of which means, we were walking together, but not talking. This thought popped into my mind: Here’s a penny for your thoughts. In the next instance, I looked to the ground. Stuck on the side of the walkway in a thatch of dried-out, brown sea grass sat a lonely penny. I picked it up and handed it to my husband. “Here’s a penny for your thoughts,” I told him.
The quote “A penny saved is a penny earned” is attributed to Benjamin Franklin. Known for being somewhat parsimonious, Ben Franklin thought it was as useful to save money, even pennies, as it was to earn more money. There is a childish artistic rendering in a grammar school history book depicting Ben Franklin carrying three huge puffy rolls that he had purchase for a mere three pennies, while his common-law wife Deborah Read looks on and laughs at him. It’s as if she’s scoffing at him for such a paltry offering: Three rolls for three pennies, Honestly!
Pennies have been deemed to be a prodigious failure as a mete of currency. Every year, we hear rumors that the government will soon cease stamping out pennies, and certainly they have done their best to take away their weight in copper. Prior to 1982 Pennies were composed of 95% copper. Pennies minted after 1982 have been 97.5% zinc with copper plating. The fact that the penny is less valuable than ever has made stooping to the ground to pick up a stray penny hardly seem worth the effort.
Copper or not, pennies still retain a certain cachet that is related to the state in which the lucky penny is found on the ground. If it’s heads-up, it’s lucky. If tails, then you must turn over the penny before picking it up and placing it into your pocket. A tails-up penny is a sure sign that there will be no windfalls, jackpots, grand inheritance, or trust funds in store for you. You will have to work for your money. You will have to work very hard. One writer friend goes so far as to take a tails-up penny, places it inside of her shoe and must walk for a while to cure it to make it lucky before placing the penny into her purse. One time I rode an elevator with a man who I knew to be a very rich lawyer. On the floor of the elevator car, a lone penny gleamed and called my name. I dove for the penny and stuffed it into my pocket. The lawyer confessed that he was waiting until I got off the elevator before he took it.
It’s all about luck, you see. Once a famous designer and I crossed a street in downtown Seattle, where a stark penny loomed in the crosswalk. I thought we would wrestle to the ground to see who would first get the penny, but that did not happen. The designer intentionally stepped over the penny and said, “I’ll leave it there for someone else. That someone else was me. I exhibited no shame when I dove to the ground to claim my bounty. As for the designer, the rejection of the penny was commensurate with his waning career and earning power. Soon he would spiral into a tailspin that resulted in his steep decline. I doubt he realizes how powerful a message he sent to the world when he stepped over the lowly penny.