“Fifty Cent Piece: Random Thoughts on Money and Time”
10 April 2015
Fifty pennies really weigh down your pocket, and each one was worth a whole lot more in your youth. Back then, if you found one in a parking lot you snatched it right up, ‘cuz that penny could buy you a piece of Bazooka. Plus it was good luck. You’d drop that copper disk in your pocket and feel its aura of fortune chase you all the way home.
Eventually you grew old enough to realize nickels were better, shinier, and best of all heavier. Dimes were good, too—you counted well enough to know ten cents bought you a pack of gum at the 7-Eleven—but gosh they were flimsy! So, you tossed aside the pennies and collected fives and tens like they were ingots of gold.
You grew to be ten, and now quarters meant a lot more. Two of them weighed nothing compared to fifty pennies or ten nickels. One bought an ice cream. Five paid your way into a movie. Bigger numbers were better, no doubt about it. Reaching the double digits in life felt awfully special. Twice as nice—let’s bundle those numbers together!
At some point you started collecting half dollars. You found them scotch-taped inside birthday cards, and occasionally the stores would give them out as change. You loved their weight, plus they were guaranteed to be shiny. JFK stood out in thick bas relief. You never spent half dollars. They went straight into your giant Tootsie Roll coin bank. Talk about good luck. Fifty cents, a rare coin! Much cooler than pennies and nickels and dimes.
Life went by in a similar manner. At first the single years seemed so important. Then decades marked the passage of significant time. At twenty-five you thought, “Nothing gets better than this.” And then, rather quickly, things got very real.
Pennies came and went; at some point you stopped bending over to pick them up off the asphalt. Nickels and dimes flew into toll booths, handfuls flung through a rolled down car window. Clang! Clang! Forty cents was the magic number at plazas those days. The forties. You flung out that change like it burned on your palm. And, frankly, it did. The forties really burned. You read a story once about how the Illinois Toll Authority had tunnels beneath every plaza. The workers moved around, emptying the chutes that fed down from the baskets, and filling their pockets with all of your forties. Petty embezzlers. Yep, your forties flew by and lined someone else’s pockets.
Now here you are staring at your fifty cent piece. It’s shiny, weighs nice. Not worth as much as it did when you were only ten years old, but it’s attractive somehow. Your thumb rubs the outline of a long dead president. “Ask not what your country can do for you …”
Yeah, but sometimes it feels like you always did stuff for everyone else except you. You lifted the couch cushions, collected their sticky change, and wrapped it in paper sleeves to give to the bank. Pockets and pockets full of heavy, tarnished old coins.
What happens now that you’ve changed it all in for fifty?
Tuck your thumb under that coin, that shiny half dollar. Give it a flick. Watch it soar into the air and tumble end over end. See it glint in the sunshine? Heads you win. Tails you win.
That’s your fifty cent piece.
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Great letter, Colleen. 😀