Sometime long ago, it must have fallen out of someone’s pocket near the top of our front stairs. It probably rolled around on the floor, or got kicked once or twice, before coming to rest in a large crack between two old floorboards. And there it was perfectly content.
Until December 5, 2018. That’s when the smoke showed up. A thick cloud of black acrid smoke came pouring up the stairs from the floor below, followed by the sounds of sirens, the pounding of feet, and the smashing of glass. The penny may have been stepped on once or twice. Mr. Lincoln tried to stay calm; being made of copper, he didn’t really have to breathe. And though it got awfully hot, it was nowhere near the 1025 degrees Centrigrade required to melt him, so he was safe if a little uncomfortable.
Then everything went quiet. The lights went out. The people left. The temperature dropped. Days and weeks passed slowly with only occasional visits from passing feet. The penny spent some cold lonely winter nights alone in the crack in the floor.
Summer finally came, and things became warm and pleasant. There was suddenly lots of activity in the house. All kinds of banging and sawing and dust flying. Soon after, the arrival of some clean new windows made the the penny’s room as bright as ever.
But the worst was yet to come. In the form of a heavy floor sander. The horrible noise started downstairs, and it eventually made its way up to the penny’s floor. As the grinder bore down on him, Old Abe kept his head down, but the machine was merciless and gave him a shiny haircut. And then, to top it all off, the penny got drowned in wood stain and several coats of sticky varnish.
A few weeks later, I was talking to our contractor Dave. He’d just returned from the township office to file for a Certificate of Occupancy. We were up against a deadline and I was very nervous the allotted time in our rental house would run out before our renovation was complete. But Dave gave me a big smile and said, “we got it.”
I exhaled. I got a bit dizzy. I leaned over to collect my thoughts and put my hands on my knees, like I’d just run the 40. I closed my eyes. And when I opened them again, I saw, right at that very moment, right between my feet, a somewhat shiny object in the floorboards. It wasn’t wedged in, it was just sitting loosely in a crack. I picked it up. It was a penny, covered in smoke and varnish and ground shiny along one edge. Born in 1960, just like my wife.
I shook Dave’s hand, put the penny in my pocket, drove across town, put the penny in Sara’s hand and said, “we got it.” She put it away for safekeeping.
We had lots still to do, and it all came in a rush. Piles of smoky stuff to clean and pack, a moving van, lots of carloads shuttling back and forth. A few more dizzy spells.
But we made it. The penny moved back into his house on March 19, 2020. And it turns out he’s pretty lucky after all: no longer stuck in a crack but resting in a felt-lined cedar box alongside some shiny jewelry. He’s not worried that he’ll ever go back into circulation; he means too much to us.
(And even if we could use the penny, he can’t go back out right now; just getting handed from person to person could create some really bad consequences. We learned of the pandemic on the 11th; we moved back on the 19th; New Jersey issued a stay-at-home order on the 25th. After 15 months away, we made it back just in time.)
The penny is very lucky to be home, and so are we. For the foreseeable future, we’re all gonna make like Abe and keep our heads down.
Good luck to all of you as you do the same. Stay safe.