In careful columns on a farm log, she recorded the egg money. For one accustomed to today's figures, the pitifully small sums seem astounding. They are counted not in dollars, but in pennies. Her place in life, and I doubt she really would have wanted it otherwise, was to carve out a sanctuary for a family on a farm deep in the hills of Tennessee. Egg money was her ticket to those dreams every mother clasps tight in her heart and wants to make possible for her children. Perhaps the dreams were small ones by today's standards, but in that time huge boulders stood in the path of them, and penny at a time, with every sale of eggs, she came one step closer to doing the special things she wanted to do for her children. Egg money bought a strand of pearls for each of her two eldest daughters on their sixteenth birthdays. Egg money provided a class ring and a school sweater for her only son. Time and again, my aunts have shown me some small thing that would have been considered a luxury as they grew up, and provided the simple explanation, "Mama bought it with her egg money". Pennies.
When I was a child, Christmas might not have meant the bountiful season of giving it does now, but we were far from the days when Mama counted the pennies of the egg money. Pa, a true family patriarch, did not let us
forget those days had been, nor that, as far as he was concerned, they were still in existence. Every Christmas, as sure as the orange cake and the coconut cake, one thing could be counted upon. Invariably beneath the tree was one white tissue wrapped gift for myself and my only cousin. Tied with curling ribbon, it looked suspiciously like the jar it was, and picking it up one discovered it was quite heavy for its size. My cousin and I would smile and roll knowing eyes. This was the annual gift from Pa, and we would giggle and say, "Wonder what this is??"
Pennies. Five hundred pennies had been dropped into a jar for each of us throughout the year. Each year, as Pa went about his daily routine, receiving change for a hair cut, a jar of coffee, he dropped in the pennies. It was his only gift to us, and yet it was probably the most meaningful Christmas gift I have ever received. I have forgotten most of the things unwrapped through the years, but I never forgot the pennies, and long after the pennies were no longer under the tree I dwelt on the meaning of them. I have often thought how special it was that our grandfather marked his thoughts of us throughout the year in pennies, and that each of us could be assured that at least five hundred times we had been in his mind. I have also, as I have grown older, realized his gift was a reflection of his times, and that he had shown us a glimpse of a world we would be wise to take note of. One Christmas the annual tissue wrapped jar of pennies was no longer there.
Pennies. I grew older and at my father's death, much belonging to my family and grandfather passed into my hands. Those items were of little material value. The value lay in the window that sudden became much clearer, and I looked into a past and learned a lesson no less important today than it was at the turn of the century when my grandfather grew into manhood. Time and again in tattered leather purses, tucked away in a trunk, in a box, between the pages of a farm journal, I found tiny packages wrapped carefully in a scrap of paper. Peeling the crumbling paper I would find a penny, and on the paper carefully recorded I would find the date and place the penny had been found. Pennies, I realized, were a theme of my family's life. If thousands of dollars were beyond comprehension, hundreds a source of wonder, a dollar to be the wage of a man for two days of hard work on a farm, pennies were what built dollars. I can remember scoffing at pennies as a child, and seeing the lowered eyebrows of my parents who chastised, "A hundred of them make a dollar". Pennies.
Throughout the week I see pennies. They seem so unimportant to so many people. I hear them in stores. "Just keep the pennies. Don't want to mess with them." I see a penny lying on a sidewalk, and people passing by without noticing. I point one out to a friend I am walking with and she smiles but keeps walking. I remember a jar of pennies and go back to pick it up. I wonder what many children of today would think if given a jar of five hundred pennies for Christmas. And I wonder if, given such a strange gift, it might be one they would remember, think again and again on. I wonder if it would cause them to consider the value of the penny, a hundred of which make a dollar. And I wonder if one day they would think how special it was that someone dear marked thoughts of them throughout the year in pennies, and that each could be assured that at least five hundred times they had been on someone's mind.
just a thought,
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