Four quarters, five dimes, four nickels, and 30 pennies. Two dollars. The cashier at the convenience store seemed startled when I dumped this change onto the counter to pay for a quick pick lottery ticket.
Much of this change was scarred from traffic running over it and the pennies were dirty and corroded from being exposed to the elements. I explained to the cashier that over the past couple of years I had found this change in the parking lots of convenience stores. It had been carelessly left there by kids who couldn’t be bothered picking up such trifles.
Well, it wasn’t trifling to me. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I risked my life gathering this treasure. However, I did make a spectacle of myself by foolishly scurrying out onto the road, one eye peeled for oncoming traffic to pick up an errant copper. At one time I did considerably more walking and would pick up enough loose change, including the odd loonie to pay for a lottery ticket every couple of months. Not any more. I don’t think kids are being more careful with their their change, it’s just that my eyesight is not as good as it was and I don’t go walking as much in productive areas.
Growing up shortly after the Depression there was no such thing as small change. It was all plenty big enough to trade at the corner store for tantalizing treats. Often we would gaze longingly at the great variety of colorful candies displayed in a glass showcase wishing we had a penny to spend.
Black balls (we didn’t call them jaw breakers back then) were three for a penny. Licorice pipes and cigars were a penny apiece, as were red and black licorice whips, sour balls, candy kisses, bubble gum, and many others. BB bats (carmel suckers) were two cents each. For a nickel we could get a bag full of marvellous confections.
If we were lucky enough to have a quarter — which was too much to spend at one time — we could go on a veritable orgy of feasting. Leaving the store clutching our bag of goodies we were often waylaid by friends who were more than willing to help in the consumption of our goodies. Some of them seemed to have some sort of built-in radar system alerting them to the fact someone nearby had a bag of candy.
My back may be creaky, my knees reluctant to bend, and I may look foolish grovelling in a parking lot for a penny. However, I hope I never lose the feeling of exaltation of spotting small treasure lying in the dirt.
Or pass up the opportunity to gather in the riches carelessly left behind by those indifferent to the value of these little tokens of cheer. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll win a lottery with my lucky pennies which, by the way, is the only money with which I gamble.
Ron Buffie is a Transcona-based writer.
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