Penny A Penny for Your Summertime

I’ve been thinking about neighborhood ice cream trucks. We used to be assured of circus music, icy cold treats, and delicious childhood memories every weekend, every summer, thanks to the ice cream truck. We still occasionally hear the bells inviting children to stop their play, climb down from tree houses, turn and look down the oasis-splotched road. The music plays and the children dance.

It’s a sweet childhood memory for those of us now digging into our purses and pockets, snatching Mason jars off windowsills to empty runaway coins onto tabletops, and rummaging in the washing machine for loose change. We long to give our children what we had. A simple ice cream treat. Just a little taste of summertime days and childhood ways.

Yet I wonder how much longer the ice cream truck will roll down our street and afford our children a summertime treat that can be bought with nickels, dime, and quarters. Surely one ice cream treat will soon cost five dollars which pays the distance it takes for the ice cream truck to come to and around your neighborhood.

I’m also wondering about the parents standing in the front yard holding the watering hose, who have just emptied the Mason jar, pockets, and washing machine to collect enough coins to tank up vehicles needed to get to and from work. There is no “loose” change for ice cream treats.

I cannot count the times I’ve walked through a parking lot with my children, spied a penny, and succumbed to the childish refrain of:

“Find a penny, pick it up,
All day long you’ll have good luck!”

The penny is promptly picked up by the child and I have no recollection of where it goes or what it is spent on. I haven’t seen penny gum machines in a long time so, I suspect, it is lost under the car seat, in the washing machine, or in another parking lot. I hardly know why I continue the rhyme and reason of stooping to pick-up a stray penny.

Then again, I think I do know. It’s rooted in me as a child growing up in American.Childhood habit stamped in copper. Another little American girl shared her experience with me and I, in turn, shared it with my daughters.

Anyone who has read Little House on the Prairie by American pioneer icon Laura Ingalls Wilder remembers the penny found in the toe of her Christmas stocking. How can you not? It’s the best part of the book!

“They had never even thought of such a thing as having a penny. Think of having a whole penny for your very own. Think of having a cup and a cake and a stick of candy and a penny.”

Many of us remember this commentary because it jarred us out of our twentieth century lives. It continues to jar children in the twenty-first century. That a penny used to have such precious value means something to us.

Over our heat-stroked parking lots (when even the economy sweats), we fail to see the worth of a penny any more than a bee sees a drop of honey in the abundance of a flowerbed; but we certainly see a penny’s worth when the gas pump sign goes up a notch. We use our ten-cents reward points eagerly, we are thankful for the three pennies off each gallon, we cheer when we see the price has dropped five-cents, we Facebook the lowest spots to our friends.

A few years ago I was brought to a new awareness about Benjamin Franklin’s philosophy:

“A penny saved is a penny earned.”

I was in the checkout line of a grocery store with my youngest daughter when an elderly lady got behind us. She was counting pennies in the palm of her hand. She spied a stray penny on the floor behind my foot and asked my daughter to please pick it up and give it to her. Imagine a grown-up asking a six-year-old to turn over a penny to her so that she could buy her food. It was a revelation to me that even today there are people who find a penny priceless. Perhaps the next time we see a penny in the parking lot we’ll think twice before stepping over it.

Surely this gas crisis and bad economy is a wake-up call for Americans to appreciate things more. We know we appreciate a road trip more; we definitely appreciate a full-tank of gas more; we appreciate Mason jars full of change when we need an extra gallon of gas; and we should certainly appreciate the music the ice cream truck brings to our summers. It means there are still enough pennies left in the world to make our children smile.

Copyright 2012 Cay Gibson