all of the selves we Have ever been
There is a coin shortage.
And a pandemic.
Together these two forces may bring about the end of dollars and cents. Hello, micro-chips and plastic; goodbye, lucky pennies.
This saddens me. Pennies, nickels, and dimes were the currency of my childhood. I still feel on top of the world when I find a shiny copper penny in the convenience store parking lot or a dingy silver dime in the grass along the bike path.
A few coins won’t buy much in the world today, but when I was a child, a single penny was admission to the most magical place on earth. I am not talking about Disneyland; I am speaking of Apple Annie’s, the local penny candy store.
I don’t know what the shop’s real name was. I don’t know how the proprietress came to be known as Apple Annie. Perhaps, the children in my family gave her that name. She was married to Ted, the co-owner of the store. However, Ted was never there as he was busy doing janitor-things at the Catholic school and church across the street. I never saw the living quarters, but I am told that Apple Annie and Ted lived in the back of the store with their son and daughter.
I don’t know what else Apple Annie and Ted sold in that store. I never looked left. Arriving at the store filled with anticipation, I peeked through the glass window and opened the door. A small, tarnished brass bell jingled above me when I entered and summoned Apple Annie to the front. At the right of the shop there was the large wooden and glass case displaying a wide assortment of candy. I would swear that side of the store glowed with a halo of heaven’s light. The display case may have rested upon a fluffy white cloud. I can’t be sure so engrossed was I in making my selections.
The display seemed grand inside the weary store with its worn and creaking wooden floors. Today, one might expect to find fancy French pastries in such a magnificent case. Of course, I wasn’t looking for pastries; I was studying the candy necklaces, the flying saucers filled with tiny candy beads, the wax bottles and wax sticks. There were licorice strings, Pixy Stix, and black taffy. Favorites included the striped rainbow coconut that we called “bacon,” and watermelon slices that looked like teeny tiny wedges of watermelon, little black seeds included. The bacon and the watermelon sparkled with crystals of sugar. There were ruby red wax lips, marshmallow ice cream cones, and Kits in banana, vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry flavors.
An expensive choice might be a role of Necco wafers, but that could go a long way. Necco wafers were not just food, they were also props. We used them as play food, play money, and for thousands of re-enactments of Holy Communion. Among the best bargains were the pastel blue, pink, and yellow candy buttons on a long white ribbon of paper. We had to pick the small, crunchy dots off with our fingernails or tear them off with our bottom teeth spitting out the excess paper. The best bargains were the two-for-a-penny candies such as Atomic Fireballs and root beer barrels. The two-for-a-penny items were a great buy on a tight budget and also made it easier when aunts and uncles gave you coins and marching orders to share with your siblings or cousins.
After children made their selections, Apple Annie placed the items into a miniature brown paper bag, a child-sized version of the adult grocery bag. Whoever came up with that bag was a genius as far as I was concerned. The bag was a perfect fit for a child’s hand. It was also proof that penny candy existed for children only. An adult would look foolish carrying such a tiny bag. Unlike the purchases of beer or cigarettes, adults-only products, no proof of identification was necessary for these child-only items. Your physical stature and missing teeth were proof enough for Annie.
Before Amazon took over everything, before Google began to spy on our buying habits and catalog our preferences, Annie controlled the kingdom. No one but Annie ever got behind the display case. There were no cameras or digital facial recognition systems. Annie knew all of us. And she knew our parents too. And we knew she knew. She didn’t need an alarm system or a gun. She could pick up the phone. But Annie never needed to do so. She was kind and patient. Annie never rushed the selection process. She came to know our preferences, helped us make decisions, and magically, the case never ran empty.
If any of the town’s children had gone missing, Annie could have created an age-enhanced image from her mind’s eye. She would know our fingerprints and our nose prints from the many times she wiped them from the glass. Apple Annie probably could have made an accurate guess of our IQs from the way we went about our business. It is likely Annie could have accurately predicted which among us were headed for success and which were headed for the penitentiary. She saw the ones who learned to get the most for their money, the ones who shared, and the ones who would not. Annie knew the patient children from the impulsive ones. She knew which children spent everything they had and which kept some money back for later.
A little money in your pocket is a wonderful thing whether you are six or sixty. Some money of our own helps us to feel confident, hopeful, capable, and fortunate. It buys us choices and gives us a future. Most importantly, money gives us the capacity to be generous and to enter into the world of magic.
If coins and cash disappear, how will I acknowledge the street musicians? The homeless veterans? How will I tip the person who does the unexpected good deed? What will I tuck into birthday cards? Toss into a wishing well? What will I leave beneath the pillow of a sleeping child with a toothless grin?
And when the shiny pennies disappear, where will all the luck go?
I don’t want to risk it. I say, keep the change.