PART 6: I remember Grandma & Grandpa: why I'm a coin collector today
I spent the better part of my life collecting coins. I enjoyed looking at old money. Stamps were not my thing. I could not see any profit in it. But if you collected coins and times got tough, you could always spend those. All you could do with stamps was mail a bunch of letters. Who knew, maybe someday my coins would actually be valuable.
There was all this talk around the house one night about a penny. I must have been six, seven or eight. Sandy and Bonnie were there, me Grandma & Grandpa. The newspaper said a penny was worth hundreds of dollars! How could a penny not even 50 years old be worth that much? The search was on!
Everyone got out their stash of pennies and piled them on the kitchen table. I know Grandpa was interested because he went downstairs and brought up the biggest coffee can I had ever seen. It must have been a 4 'pounder'. More pennies! All those pennies! I started to get excited. Hundreds, thousands, in all those pennies surely there would be one worth lots of money.
We looked for what seemed like hours. Grandpa was the first to give up. But everyone else kept looking. A 1909S VDB. That was a date I never forgot. Victor D. Brenner, the designer had his initials on the penny. You had to examine each coin: read the date, look for the “S” (meaning it was made in San Francisco) and then flip it over and check for “VDB” stamped on the back.
Grandma was the next to stop looking. She didn’t give up hope. I could tell. When the supply of Pop’s pennies began to run low, she went into the other room and brought out a small container of her own. More pennies! Bring em on! Sandy and Bonnie both gave up at the same time, but not till we were down to the very last hundred.
I never gave up. I searched for that penny for years.
I think from that experience Sandy and I both ended up being coin collectors although I think Sandy was more of a money collector than a coin collector, if you get my meaning. One day her ex-dead-beat husband rolled up all her coins and took them to the bank. She was probably devastated!
Grandpa didn't collected coins, he just saved special ones to make into gifts for the rest of the family. More on these unique gifts later. I have two paper dollars that came from my Grandparents. A one dollar bill and a five dollar bill. Both are large bills. In my collection I have several steel pennies Grandma gave me when I was a teenager. These are precious to me.
Of course the coins that have the most sentimental value are the silver dollars. 25 years of marriage signifies a silver anniversary. When MOM & DAD reached that milestone, everyone in the family got together and managed to accumulate 25 silver dollars from before1924. Even in 1958 they were scarce. Each wrapped in a small piece of white material like you would see on a fancy dress, and tied with a tiny piece of colored ribbon placed in a basket decorated with ribbons and bows.
Over the years, every once in awhile, Grandma would get the basket down from the top of the corner hutch in the dining room, and let me look at the dollars. I never unwrapped them, just looked at them through the lace wrapping. Today, I have a few of these silver dollars in my coin collection. They are identified. I expect them to stay in the family, and handed down to the next generation. Sandy has a few. Carol & My mother gave me theirs to hold.
Grandpa and Grandma did have some odd ways of keeping money. Not that it was precious to them. This is not what I mean at all. In their entire life having money was not on their list of priorities. Believing in God and going to church, making their own way in life, having food on the table, raising their family so that their kids could take care of themselves. These were the most important things in life. They had lived through the ‘Great Depression’, where people took care of themselves, worked for a living if they could and learned to be satisfied with what that got them.
I’ve tried to describe their possessions and how they lived - barely middle class people. Not poor at least not as poor as the Mulligans. They raised a family but retired with very little money in the bank, having problems paying medical expenses. Even at that age, they did not like accepting money from other people, family I mean. Once, when I was visiting, about 1980 or so, I found some junk mail in the bathroom. It was a letter asking for a donation.
Now I believe in supporting charitable organizations, fire department, police, United Way, etc.., but this was an Indian reservation. I asked Grandma, “Your not sending money to this are you?” She had a big heart. Of course the answer was “Yes, just a few dollars”. A few dollars. A few dollars, was more than they had in the bank. In fact they needed to be on someone’s “charitable contribution” list, but that’s how they lived their lives. If I wanted to help them, it had to be done in such a way that the money was cheerfully accepted. Like at Christmas time, birthdays, and other special occasions. Then I could tell Grandma felt better about receiving it.
Every time we went back for a visit we took them grocery shopping. My wife was smart. For holidays & birthdays we would write two checks. Never just one. One for each. That way we were sure they could each spend it on themselves or put it in the bank if they wanted. But they did not have to feel guilty that one was getting something the other didn’t. They were “two peas in the pod”. One wouldn’t survive without the other.
When I say they had odd ways of keeping money, well, they did! Stuffed in jars, little boxes, hidden, things like that. Not a lot mind you, although I guess I’ve made that pretty clear. Once I even heard talk that Grandpa had buried some money in the basement someplace. If that were true, no one ever found it. In those last sad days of cleaning out the house, someone told me this story: Someone helping the 4 daughters, was asked "What’s that pile of stuff?” “Trash” the girls said. This friend reached in the pile of rubbish and pulled out a can that contained all the anniversary 25 silver dollars. Said the lady, “they always kept stuff that way”.
When I was growing up, nothing ever got thrown away. It was either ‘used up’ or kept. Grandma once told me, “I never thought about keeping old things, (antiques) when I was growing up, if you did not want a ‘thing’ anymore or it was used up, you gave it away or threw it away”.
THE WEIGHTS ON THE CLOCK
I know at one time Grandpa or Grandma showed me a small pipe, about the size you would hang on the end of the chain of an old cuckoo clock. A counter-balance weight makes the clock tick for about 24 to 36 hours. There are two chains, one going up and the other going down as the clock runs out.
Grandpa held that weight out and said to me “There’s quarters in here. Just in case you (meaning him) ever find yourself without any money” . As I studied the weights, you could see where there was a sort of “plug” in the end of the pipe - you could just about fit $20 or so worth of rolled quarters in there.
My memory is clear about the money in the pipe. I wished I’d never had remembered it. My Mother had some terrible argument about it after my Grandparents had passed away. She took the pipe & kept it in her freezer until estate attorneys forced its return. They had it sawed in half and guess what? NO QUARTERS. I figure that somewhere along the line that money was put to good use by Grandpa.
Recently I discovered an estate document that said indeed some small amount of money was recovered from a 'pipe'.