Take a Penny, Leaf a Penny

I saw a penny on the kitchen floor the other day while I was sweeping up. The temptation came over me to knock it into the dustpan along with the hair ties, shrunken peas, and dried-out Rice Chex.

I was on my way to the trash can to pitch the whole shebang, penny and all, when Sally, my 5 year-old, piped up.

“Hey, you’re not going to throw away that penny are you?”

“No, sweetie, Daddy would never do such a thoughtless and wasteful thing like throwing perfectly good money in the trash. Here, you take it.”

I offered her the dustpan and winced a little as she plucked the coin from among the fuzz and fur. Letting out a squeak of joy, she held the dull copper coin to the light and smiled.

“Thanks Daddy!” she said. You’d have thought the child had won the lottery.

When did I become such a grinch? A penny’s still a penny after all, even one that isn’t pretty. To Sally it was a windfall. To me it was a pain in the back, sitting there under the kitchen table amid the spilled milk, toast ends, and broken pencil tips.

I wonder sometimes how a thing goes from being so important to being a trifle. Have you looked at leaf lately? I mean, really looked at one? Amazing things they are—marvels of engineering and beautiful, too.

When your only interaction with leaves involves raking them into large piles and stuffing them into brown paper bags on the weekends it can be easy to miss the magic.

I confess: It’s been a long time since I saw the magic in a leaf.

Kids know what leaves are for. They are for raking into piles so you can jump in them. They are for tucking under your baseball hat and wishing fancy ladies good day as they tumble out over your face. They are for filling up your sweater and laughing ho ho ho while you pat your giant crunchy belly. They are for pasting onto posters and painting them to look like turkeys.

Leaves are for jokes. They are for handing to your sister and saying “Leaf me alone.”

“Hey Dad, what did one leaf say to the other? I’m falling for you.”

“Good one. Now let’s make like a tree and leave.”

I guess I forgot for a while what leaves are for.

There is a tree on at the end of our street that makes leaves that look like Zulu warrior shields. I hadn’t noticed until Ms. Pennypincher went crazy for them. While the rest of us tossed a football on a recent autumn afternoon, Sally gathered as many Zulu shields as she could find.

The change happens on the inside, and slowly. You forget to notice the leaves. Your forget that you once thought a penny was a lot of money. You forget what a miracle it is that the sun rises and the sun sets and every day you get a fresh start.

It’s related to the process that sends you to bed during the third quarter of the big game. Sports used to matter to me. But I’ll find out in the morning who won and it’s better to hit the rack. All that matters to me now is getting a good night’s sleep. There will be another game tomorrow.

When did I become such a grown up?

Age brings wisdom, the ability to see things more fully and more clearly than you did in youth. That’s good and necessary. But along with that vision comes a certain selective blindness. Raking the leaves may be a drag, but it probably doesn’t have to be.

A penny may not be worth much, but throwing it in the trash is just about the laziest grown-up move there is. A penny saved is a penny earned, after all.

Especially when little eyes are watching.

From the November 2018 issue of Fairfield County Catholic.
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