Dad was a carpenter, and each week he gave me the washers from his pay envelope. I’d plunk them onto my piggy bank. Yeah, that’s right, washers as in nuts, bolts and washers.
He told me washers weren’t money and I couldn’t spend them on candy or toys. When we filled the pink pig, we brought them to the big, boring stone bank. They said when I turned 16, I could take the money out.
Whatever they told me, it worked. Heck, I could barely read, and knew nothing about the nearly bald guy etched on my washers. Far from me to figure how worthless washers turned into money, but I accumulated the worthless washers regularly.
When I learned to count, I unscrewed the base, dumped the washers on my bedspread and piled them in five-high stacks. I cheered later as I slipped them back in the slot, clunk-clunk. This is probably how one-armed bandits got their start.
In my smart aleck teen years, I watched Dad when he brought home rolls and rolls of pennies, nickels and dimes. He needed glasses to read by now, and he wasn’t even 50. And there he’d be, with his coins scattered on the living room coffee table, his horn-rimmed reading glasses sliding down his nose, a hand-held magnifying glass in one hand as he tilted each coin to catch the light, date and mint.
He looked like Mr. Magoo. I laughed. “Dad, what are you doing with all these coins? Why aren’t you snoring through a John Wayne war movie?”
Looking at me over the top of his glasses, his grey eyes caught the light and yellow highlights glistened in his white-gray hair. Maybe he’d realize how much time he’s wasting and finish the basement where I could play.
“For you,” he said. “These are all for you.” He turned back to his clutter.
My wife likes to save pennies. Not in those cardboard collectors with the holes punched out and the year and mint pre-printed. And not only by buying bargains, or scouting a Rexall one-cent sale. She likes to save shiny pennies, and pay the change portion with dirty, gross old pennies. She sets aside wheat pennies for my out-of-date collection.
Perhaps she’ll get into the habit of saving dollars, too, when Congress changes from paper bills to coins. I have four of the president series (two Jeffersons, one J.Q. Adams and a Polk that came to me from an NJ Transit ticket vending machine). I keep those coins apart from my real money. NJ Transit says it’s converting those machines back to paper currency.
Those washers I saved were stamped with the image of Ike, and were mostly-silver fifty-cent pieces which we cashed in when Kennedy died. If only.
Forty-odd years later I’m shopping in Italy, struggling to tell a one-euro coin from a two-euro. I stop to don my horn-rimmed reading glasses. That’s when I see my father sorting coins. On my return I check out the washers in my attic.