Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.

Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the ugly. Comments welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Saturday, September 21, 2019

A Penny Saved



It was five months after my husband’s stroke when my friend Tim and I were cleaning out one of the two basements we had to empty out to get the houses up for sale when we found two, ten gallon milk cans filled with pennies. I knew Don saved pennies but I had no idea he had so many in the basement in addition to the five pound coffee cans full we found in the garage and in his office. Tim and I had a rule that everything we brought upstairs had to be run past Don who sat in the driveway in his wheelchair before anything could be put in either in a trailer headed to an auction house or in the back of our pickup truck going to a storage unit. 

Don only had a two word vocabulary at that point in time---"yes" and "no"---but neither was reliable so it took asking the same question a few times before we’d get the right answer. ("Are you a girl?" "Yes." "Are you a girl?" "Yes?" "Are you a girl?" "No!") I’m pretty sure Don thought he was going to make a full recovery and resume his prior life so he didn’t want to let go of much. Tim and I knew better. He’d lost the use of his whole right side and his ability to speak and write so Tim and I didn’t want him to think he’d also lost total control over his ‘stuff’ thus 'The Rule.' It was a long, stressful process for all of us because Don had to be cajoled into letting go of quite a few things. That was Tim’s specialty. But no matter what either one of us said to Don he wouldn’t let those milk or coffee cans full of coins go off to the auction house or the bank. 

Nope, Don had other ideas. The coffee cans came back to the apartment. (Neither house couldn't be retrofitted for a wheelchair, in case you're wondering...) He wanted to look at every single one of those pennies before I was allowed to roll them up and take them to the bank. I made a list of key dates to look for, set up a card table and I rough sorted the coins one batch at a time by decades, then by year at which point he took over looking for mint marks and error strikes. We had quite the operation going. When the coffee can coins were finally all sorted, I’d take trips to our storage unit to scoop more batches of pennies out of the milk cans.

This went on for months in our spare time which was in short supply because most of our days were filled with outpatient physical, occupational or speech therapies plus doctor appointments. Not to mention when Don was down for his afternoon nap I was back at the houses packing and cleaning or meeting with our builder. When the last shoe box full of rolled pennies was taken to the bank and all the collectible ones set in collector albums and sleeves, I rejoiced. I made a vow I’d never let pennies accumulate in the house again. And I still don't; I'm that old person in line who counts out the exact change for purchases whenever possible, but I also don’t just throw my pennies in dish by cash registers either. They add up! I’d forgotten how much green money I got from the bank for all those pennies but it was measured in thousands rather than hundreds. 

Fast forward to today when I went to a lecture given by a guy who won a $200,000 cash prize for making a piece of art out of all pennies---24,576 pennies. Oh! My! God! Could I identify with his process of sorting and taking pennies back and forth to the bank by the poundage he could carry. Only he was sorting by a range of colors instead of dates---burnt umber, rosy brown, russet, chocolate, auburn, bronze and sepia. WWII pennies which have no copper in them because it was needed to make the shells of ammunitions the artist had to buy because he didn’t find a single zinc coated steel penny, but fifteen years earlier in our sort we found over a dozen. He used them for the shirt on his eight by twelve foot portrait of Abraham Lincoln. 

1,347 art pieces had been entered the year A Lincoln won in our annual Art Prize. 327,814 votes were cast from the public to narrow it down to the top twenty art pieces then the voting started all over again. The top 20 drew 72,000 votes with A Lincoln taking the grand prize. Art critics snubbed the people’s choice. They always do so one year they chanaged the rules so that a panel of five professional art critics picked one winner and the public vote picked another each with its own cash prize. Only once did the art panel and the public pick the same piece and that person got an obscene amount of prize money. I didn’t get to see A Lincoln in person but that didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying this lecture. Hearing about the process from how a jar of coins on a dresser inspired the idea to carrying out the logistics of working on something so large and heavy was fascinating. The artist figured he had about $4,000 invested in making the piece which isn’t bad considering it brought him a $200,000 check for his 465 hours of gluing pennies into a portrait. 

One of the benefits (or curses) of growing old is the way things in the present can bring forth so many memories of days gone by. I’d grown used to seeing pennies without being reminded of the Great Penny Sort but spending an hour listening to another person talk about his fascinating of the copper coins was a reminder of how I got the penny albums I’ll need to sell at some point in my downsizing venture.   ©

close up of how the pennies were glued, every date they were made is represented

33 comments:

  1. I have been learning so much as you describe your downsizing adventures. I've never been a collector, per se, but I do have an accumulation of things, both my own and from my parents' own downsizing. As for the penny story, I own a 2-foot high plastic bank that is a replica of a liquor bottle from the 1960s (it was given to me by a high school boyfriend whose father owned a bar). My dad was in the habit of dropping his change into the bank every evening, plus what the boyfriend and I added. I've never opened it up to examine the contents, but I know it contains a bunch of half dollars and JFK coins, and I also know that lots of good dimes from pre-1964 are in there, not to mention plenty of quality pennies. I've always thought of it as a little side retirement savings, and now that I'm retired, I will need to take some cold, rainy week to open it up and sort through the contents. Thanks for the education!

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    1. Sounds like you've got some coins that will be worth more than face value and a fun project ahead of you. Keep in mind that before 1964 Roosevelt and Mercury Dimes, Washington Quarters, and Walking Liberty Franklin and Kennedy Half-Dollars are 90% silver. Their value is based on their silver content so they don't have to be in great shape to sell for 10-20 times their face valve.

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    2. Nina: Before your sort, copy off articles like this one on the rarest pennies to look for: https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/the-most-valuable-pennies-4151629 and this one for dimes: https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/the-most-valuable-dimes-4154722 You probably won't find them but for $100,000 a coin if you do, it's worth the time to look. All errors are worth setting aside too.

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    3. Thanks for the link! I will definitely copy the article and use it to help me identify any valuables. I checked a big batch of my sister's change recently and did find a Washington quarter - so fun to find it!

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  2. Two fascinating stories! That piece of art is amazing.

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    1. Everyone I know whose seen the portrail in person is fascinated by it.

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  3. You know Jean, reading the story about Don made feel embarrassed a bit. I lost feeling on the right side, I also lost my speech, but I got back everything but the toes on my right foot. I feel so bad for Don and you. After all that I was able to teach for 31 years, cruise with my wife, see my grandchildren and be able to play golf and just able anything. I feel so bad that Don wasn't able to get things back. I'm so sorry. Here I am and soon Oct. 1st I'll be 70 and you've lost your loving husband. I'm feeling down today reading your blog. I wish Don could have come back as good as I did. I love you my friend. See ya later Jean.

    Cruisin Paul

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    1. Survivor's guilt has no place in your life, Paul. You got a wake up call and have never taken your life or your loved ones for granted since. Don far exceeded what the doctors all predicted, that he'd be a vegetable for the rest of his life, and he didn't take that for granted either that it didn't turn out that way. For all but the first three months after the stroke he was able to live at home with me instead of a nursing home and he had an amazing attitude---enjoyed what he could and it didn't take long before he didn't waste time begrudging what he couldn't do any longer. So many stroke survivors give their depression a permanent seat at their table, he didn't. From the first day we moved into this house he was a happy, grateful man.

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    2. Thanks Jean. After reading your comment, I guess I feel a little silly. Yes, I'm very happy that I was able to do all that I've been doing.Survivor's guilt is an easy thing to show up after you feel that God has given me all that I've received. I think just having you as a friend is very good for me. Thank you my friend.

      Cruisin Paul

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    3. Aw, shucks Paul, you're just giving me a chance to dust off my old Stroke Support Mentor Wings. And I appreciate that. LOL

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  4. My first thought was that I hoped you checked for rare ones. Wow, what a job. How amazing is that Lincoln art work?

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    1. He wasn't the first person to make art out of coins which is probably one reason why the critics panned it. The statistic of the projected fascinated most people.

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  5. That portrait is awesome! What a work of art.

    A great gift to you was Don's attitude. And yours to him. You both worked the best you could with what was. Happy marriage with many many challenges. You stepped all the way up.

    Love you!

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    1. It was a gift and part of that attitude probably came from the anti-depressant he was on. LOL

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    2. LOL to your comment above.
      I throw all my change in a jug and all the $$ I get from pop bottle exchange, then on New Year's Eve, I sort it all out, roll the coins and cash it in at the bank. It's usually around $70.00, which I spend on something I want because the rest of the year, I have no extra just to spend on me. :-)

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    3. That's really a great idea and tradition, Judy!

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  6. https://www.artprize.org/65175

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  7. Your post inadvertently brought back memories of arguing with my mentally-ill hoarder husband to get rid of obvious garbage, blank pieces of paper, anything! It was such a tough time. So glad those days are behind me.

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    1. Glad those days are behind you, too. You can't argue with a hoarder without upsetting their sense of security. Reason does not apply to them.

      My husband had hoarder tendencies but the things he kept had real value and he could let go to sell stuff to upgrade his collections.

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  8. I grew up with a father who was a passionate coin collector, and the hours he spent sorting and looking and grinning at the latest treasure were considerable. Here's a days-gone-by tale: he'd go up to the bank and the VP would give him a bag of rolled dimes. He'd bring them home, sort through them, replace any he'd taken out, and carry the bag back to the bank, where he'd exchange it for a new one. No paperwork, no nothing -- just an understanding between a couple of honest guys.

    I don't collect coins, but I never throw one away, either. I toss my change into the cereal bowl I used as a baby. When it fills up, I roll the coins and take them to the bank when I make a deposit. The only exception is quarters. I collect them in a little bag I keep in my car for car washes and bridge tolls.

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    1. Going to the bank to get a bag of coins was not uncommon years ago but to do it on the honor system I think was. Days gone by.

      My car wash machine doesn't take change, only paper money.

      Love that you found a use for your baby dish.

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  9. Now that's a lot of pennies! I always save my change apart from pennies which I keep for odd cashing prices, usually due to tax! (Then I save the silvery coins!)

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    1. I don't save any coins anymore. They are a pain in the neck in mass. LOL

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  10. The Lincoln portrait isn't a particularly impressive work of Art--it's a copy, obviously; its value is, as you say, in the Process. I don't think anyone who looks at it and thinks about it can fail to be awed by the painstaking efforts put into it. It's awesome in the truest sense of that word and, if it weren't so overused, the word Amazing truly fits here.

    It's the kind of slow and patient methodical work that would drive me absolutely nuts. I don't have the mentality for that.

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    1. You nailed it---why there was a vast difference in what the art critics said and the public vote. The creator was a bit defensive when talking about the voting process and how he'd rather have thousands of public votes as opposed to just a couple from recognized art critics. Here, around town, it was first thing anyone talked about when Art Prize came up that year. It amazed a lot of people.

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  11. Scott McGillivray is a Canadian contractor. He did a penny installation of North America (?) in the floor of his office.

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    1. What I don't get is why the U.S. Mint allows people to deface/money this way. I've always thought the government was the only ones allowed to destroy our currency. When you start looking you can find all kinds of things made out of pennies and at one time bulk copper prices were so high it cost the mint more than a penny to make a penny.

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    2. We mostly pay by credit card now so seldom have to mess with change. It took us quite a while to get here, but it really simplifies life.

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    3. I'm the oppose. I try to use my credit card as little as possible. But you are not alone. I go out for lunch with people in our age bracket and over half are using credit and debit cards. I feel safer using cash.

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  12. My husband has a collection of coins left to him by his father. He has shown little interest in it, but our son is in coin heaven since my husband shared it with him. That said, my husband also has the 'spare change' collection of pennies and quarters he's acculumlated over the years and gave that to our son to sort through as well, and again, our son is whiling away his spare hours with a piles of coins looking for specific dates, etc. to add to his folders of coins. I would be impatient with that hobby, but he loves it and finds it relaxing. I can just see your penny sorting operation in full force!

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    1. I was a coin collector in my twenties and my husband was a coin collector. Not a popular hobby anymore. Glad to hear about young person interested it in.

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  13. This popped up on my page again and I re-read it. It reminded me it's about time to take my four banks with quarters, nickels and dimes to the bank and use it for Christmas money! And I saw that Art Prize piece. Not my style of art but certainly impressive and it had to weigh a TON!

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    1. I had the post turned to a draft for a while because it was getting SO many hits. I just turned it back to live; I didn't know it would show up on subscription pages again.

      I did know how much this penny piece weighted but I didn't keep my notes. It was a LOT!

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