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THIS AND THAT: How much are three pennies worth to you?

March 24, 2018 GMT

What are three pennies worth?

Once upon a time 3¢ was given when an empty soda bottle was returned to the store. Many times, children in my neighborhood (myself included) would scour streetways and ditches to retrieve the glass bottles that had been carelessly discarded.

A grocery bag filled with those clinking treasures provided endless opportunities. In those days, 3¢ could get a handful of candy from the neighborhood store, three pieces of bubblegum or baseball cards with a stick of gum inside. They could get an extra half pint of milk from the school lunchroom. They were good for a pair of wax lips or a couple of the paraffin bottles filled with a super-sweet liquid sure to satisfy any pre-teen child.

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Today, not so much. A pocketful of pennies is often seen as a weighty distraction to tote around. Often now, we won’t even bend over to pick up a loose penny on the ground.

This subject came to mind last weekend when I was at my local carwash getting the salt from the highways between here and Chicago rinsed away to reveal the shiny exterior of my wife’s SUV. As I was vacuuming the interior of the vehicle and wiping it down with a microfiber cloth, I noticed a bit of trash on the parking lot next to my vehicle – stuff discarded from a previous car that had occupied the space.

While looking at the tiny pieces of paper and globs of dust, I noticed three pennies had also been discarded. The brown circles of metal lay on the asphalt, and I detected a forlorn look on Honest Abe’s face. The penny in days gone by had been treated with greater respect. But for the individual cleaning out the car, it was more worthwhile to toss those three coins onto the ground than to pocket them.

Recalling the days of 3¢ returns for bottles, I reached down and grasped the pennies. They were a bit sticky, obviously having swum in spilled coffee or soft drink, but with the cleaning cloth, a few swipes made them almost bright as new.

As I pocketed the pennies, I wondered at what point it would have been worth it for the owner to pick up those coins. Would he have bent over to retrieve a nickel? A dime? A quarter? Surely had it been a dollar bill, it would not have been left on the carwash pavement.

With that thought circling in my mind, I drove my wife’s SUV, sparkling inside and out, back home, went upstairs and deposited my three little treasures into our coin bank. There it joined many other pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. One day I’ll liberate all those saved pieces of metal, take them to the bank and exchange them for some bills that I’ll use to treat my wife to dinner or a movie – maybe both.

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In my mind, those 3¢ add up. Perhaps by themselves they don’t seem to be much, but multiply them over and over, and something seemingly small and insignificant can become something of importance – something of value. Even the smallest has worth.

* * *

Spring is my favorite season, and I’ve said that sometimes I wish there were more than one spring each year. Recently I got my wish.

With flowers beginning to blossom in late February and our daffodils already finished with their annual showing, spring was in full force. For a Spring Break week, my wife and I drove north to visit a daughter and two of our grandchildren in Chicago, a city still in winter’s chilly grip.

There were few signs of a beginning to spring during our early March visit. The tree limbs maintained their gray-brown, dead-like appearance. Only the tips of new growth for tulips were beginning to break through the ground. Snowflakes drifted through the air, and although the Windy City did not feel the fury of the Nor’easters, we two Southerners made good use of the heavy winter apparel we took with us.

Highs were mostly in the mid 30s and lows in the 20s, making outings with the a 3-year-old and a not-quite-1-year-old an endurance contest. Long pants, tights, T-shirts, long-sleeved shirts, sweaters, jackets, hats and mittens were standard for the little ones. Heavy clothes, scarves, hats, jackets and gloves/mittens for the adults. Add a car seat insert and blanket for the little one and a diaper bag and we were ready to get out into the Chicago day.

The morning we left, it was 35 in Chicago, but the weather quickly deteriorated. By the time we reached Indiana there were snowflakes and warning signs for snow plows on the interstate. With the far outside lane a slushy mix, traffic was limited to two lanes in each direction. Naked tree branches glistened with a covering of ice and an incessant spray of water mixed with road salt was kicked up by other vehicles.

Slowly, however, the temperature started to climb. Before reaching Indianapolis, I noticed a lack of ice on the roadside plants. Once into Kentucky, the air was warmer and the grass in the horse farms was displaying its green. By the time we got to Tennessee, the mercury had climbed into the 70s and the only pieces of white drifting from the sky were discarded blossoms from some of the early-blooming trees.

The season was even more advanced in North Carolina, and by the time we pulled into our driveway in Aiken, azaleas were well along on their annual display of color. We went from deep winter to spring in the span of a single day.

Jeff Wallace is a retired editor of the Aiken Standard.

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