While walking back from my Sunday-morning jog, I found a penny in the street. My run consists of running from home to First Street, in Jacksonville Beach, and running down First Street for a few blocks. First Street runs parallel to the ocean through an area of condos, restaurants, and homes. I usually stop running, and walk back home through the same areas.
Finding a penny in the street started me thinking about how our attitudes have changed about the value of a penny over the years. When I was very young, finding a penny was exciting. Back in those days, we could actually buy something with that penny. Our attitudes about finding a penny are a reflection of the level of inflation. At first, finding a penny was an economic event. We actually bought something with it. As inflation eroded the value of those pennies, finding a penny became a sign of good luck. Picking up that found penny and keeping it in our pocket was supposed to bring us good luck. As the years went by, and the value of that penny fell, someone decided that finding a “heads up” penny was the only lucky one. The penny I found this morning was “tails up.” That makes me wonder how many people had seen it before I did, but didn’t bother bending over for a non-lucky penny.
One of my early childhood memories is of walking from my grandfather’s house on Beale Street in Wollaston, to Louis Deutsch’s corner store where I could buy a piece of penny candy, or a very small “Made in Japan” toy with a penny. Today, some of the world’s highest quality automobiles, watches, and electronics are Japanese made. But, in those days shortly after World War II, Japanese products were very cheaply made and sold. Products marked “Made in Japan” were considered junk.
Deutsch’s store was what would be called a “mom and pop” store today. However, I don’t remember ever seeing a mom there. It was always just Louie. Years later, when I was a teenager, I would go to Deutsch’s and buy cigarettes for a penny each.
Grandpa Locke used every opportunity to teach me economic lessons. He was very successful in the auto parts business. He retired in his fifties which was very young for those times. He would walk to Deutsch’s to buy a newspaper and, occasionally, a small package of cigars or a loaf of bread. He would tell me that he could buy those items more cheaply at a bigger store, but that it was important to support the small business-owner so we would continue to have the convenience of his business.
I remember one time, a few years later, that Grandpa drove us to the A & P for just a loaf of bread. He had decided that Deutsch’s bread wasn’t always as fresh as the A & P’s. Grandpa waited in the car while I ran into the store to buy that loaf of bread. At checkout, the cashier asked me if I wanted a bag (paper – plastic wasn’t available back then) for the bread. Just having the one, easy-to-carry item, I declined. When I got back to the car with the bag-less loaf of bread, Grandpa asked me where was the bag. When I said I didn’t need a bag for just one item, he explained how we paid for the bag as part of the price of the bread. He wasn’t angry about it, but he made it clear that we should get what we pay for. It’s funny how vividly I remember that after over fifty years have passed.
Grandpa Locke invested in the stock market. I guess he did pretty well. I remember him teaching me how to read the stock prices in the newspaper. He suggested that I watch a couple of companies, and pick one that I would pretend to invest in. I picked The Texas Company which was known as Texaco. I watched that stock for quite a few years. I wonder how much I would have, today, had I invested those pennies in Texaco stock instead of penny candy and cigarettes from Deutsch’s store.
Written May 28, 2006 by Allen W. Forrest
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