In for a Penny: A Father’s Day Memory

One of my early memories involves wheat pennies and Father’s Day. In 1965 my mother wanted to surprise my father with a hammock, for him to better enjoy his summer weekend afternoon naps. His birthday is in mid winter, so Father’s Day seemed the appropriate occasion. To this end, she had been saving the change from all household purchases for months. Back then, most retail transactions were in cash.

I remember her sorting the coins into rolls in the morning, and then taking my brother and me along to the department store (probably Sears at Crestwood Plaza) after lunch. My brother (13 months old) was in the stroller and not yet toddling. I remember her telling me (an undersized and solemn four year old) that this trip was a secret. We walked in to the garden department, where I absorbed the view of the patio tables and benches and colorful umbrellas from my point of view just below table height.

We waited by the display model of the canvas hammock, on its beige steel tube stand, with green longways stripes and white fringe hanging from the wood supported ends right at eye level. A salesman finally appeared, talked to my mother carefully (she had a pretty thick accent), and then fetched a big box with a picture of the same hammock on it. My mother carefully  counted out rolls of quarters, nickels, dimes, and pennies on to the glass counter by the register to pay for it.

Now a bit of back story: My mother had been coin-collecting wheat pennies for years, since the change to memorial backs in 1959. Carefully segregating them from the modern memorial back pennies. Unfortunately, she had not specifically labeled the “special” penny rolls kept in her desk drawer.

So it was some time after the Father’s Day-of-the-hammock that she discovered that her squirreled away special wheat-back penny rolls were gone, and that she had probably spent them on the hammock. It was a personal crisis for her, a loss that I could feel, and still sharply remember.

So today’s Object at Hand is the (no longer common) wheat penny. Every time I receive one, this memory flashes through my mind. And I also carefully stash them away, separate from the other copper pennies (as opposed to the zinc filled ones from 1982 through  the present).

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