A penny, the lowest form of money, is so insignificant that some think it has no value at all. People leave them in cups on counters at convenience stores to be shared by others, and toll booths refuse to accept them.
When I see and feel a penny in my hand I immediately think of my grandmother. As a boy growing up on the streets of New York, my grandmother would stop anywhere, any place to pick up our smallest monetary unit.
God forbid she would stoop down into the gutter to retrieve a brownie when my friends were around. Heaven save me when we were crossing Flatbush Avenue and she would spy one red cent straddling the center line as cabs, buses and trucks whizzed by and she squatted down to add another to her purse.
She would turn to me like clock work and tell me about my grandfather working twelve hours days during the depression for not much more, saying “We might just need this penny some day.”
Many years have passed since I held Gram’s hand crossing those busy New York City streets. Now, when I walk with my daughter and I see a penny on the ground, I find myself like a moth around a light bulb on a hot August night, bending down and picking it up.
My daughter questions me as I did my grandmother many years before. I respond to her as my grandmother did to me.
“Honey, you’ll never know when we might need this penny” and slip it in my pocket.
My Grandmother, Regina Guilfoyal Scholl Schafer would have been 106 on September 8, 2011 she died in 2002. She is always with me.I originally wrote this in the Summer of 1996 at the TN Governors School of Writing.