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See a penny, pick it up, and all the day you'll have a story to tell
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As it turns out, a fascination with pennies is a family trait although Christmas stockings in my family have changed. Still, I'll never look at pennies the same again. - photo by Amy Choate-Nielsen
Once upon a time, I was fascinated with money.

I was just a kid, and when I held a dollar, I loved to stare at the intricate green lines and doodles all over the bill. I liked quarters, and I got a stack of pennies every year in my stocking. The pennies werent in a roll or anything, and there wasnt much else in the stocking, except maybe an orange or two. But I didnt care, because those pennies made me rich.

Or they made me feel rich, anyway.

The worth of the money didnt mean much to me, but I enjoyed stacking the pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters up according to their circumference. And when I had a dollar (which wasnt very often) I was careful not to crinkle the paper or let it get torn, in case I needed to put that dollar into some kind of automated machine, like the kind that dispenses soda or subway tokens.

Over time, my feelings for money have changed. Aside from the philosophical conflicts I have with the idea of money, I have lost the childlike wonder I used to have when I looked at a dollar. Now I only see hoards of invisible germs teeming all over the paper, and the thought of how many dirty hands have touched that bill grosses me out. Now I notice how quarters and pennies make my hands smell like metal and my fingers absurdly dirty.

But my kids are in awe.

On a regular basis, at least a couple of times a week, my son and I retrieve his piggy bank (which is actually a large, yellow porcelain duck that held a bouquet of flowers my co-workers at the Deseret News sent me when I was in the hospital having my son) from the top shelf and sort through the money. He has silver dollars, golden dollar coins and shiny new quarters with pretty engravings that he loves to roll around, sort and stack them up and knock them over.

I tend to get annoyed if all of the money doesnt make its way back into the duck bank. I get especially annoyed if I find dirty copper pennies lying around, as my 2-year-old likes to put them in his mouth from time to time (and, you know, aside from a choking hazard, like I said, those things are filthy and gross). My kids dont understand why I wouldnt relish the riches of that penny or take great pains to put it somewhere safe.

So, imagine my amusement when my father brought a bag of hundreds of pennies to my house recently, in advance of a family reunion they planned. He and my mother painstakingly sorted through every penny, grouping them into piles of coins that shared the same year. It was touching to watch them. I had flashbacks to the Christmas stockings of my childhood, to the piggy banks I filled with nothing but pennies and still felt rich.

All of the grandchildren were overjoyed by the pennies. My kids asked for theirs over and over. They just could not wait to have a pile of pennies with the date of their birth year stamped on it.

Within a few days, the pennies were scattered across the counters and floors of the house where we all stayed for the reunion.

Where do these pennies keep coming from? I heard one brother-in-law ask nobody in particular as he cleaned the floor. I was in the middle of putting a few wayward pennies back into their bags as I heard him, and it made me chuckle.

The comment was in passing, but it made me think of a story my uncle told me as I asked him to tell me about his parents. My grandmother, Fleeta, and her husband, Irvan, both died before I was born.

My uncle says that just before his mother died, she told him that whenever he did anything she was pleased with, she would leave a penny. Now, whenever he finds a stray penny lying around, in the house, under the couch cushions, in the car, on the street, in a store, he thinks of her, smiling at him. Pleased with him.

I love that Fleeta had that idea. I love that she told my uncle how she would reach out to him from the great beyond, and I love that my uncle still remembers.

It gives me a different perspective on pennies. Maybe instead of loathsome, dirty, annoying nuisances that clog up the vacuum, pennies are a message from heaven. Maybe they are a token of richness to someone filled with wonder, a gift from loving grandparents to their posterity.

Maybe they are the embodiment of love.
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