Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Pennies From Heaven

Chronica Domus
No, this is not my tip for serving dinner to my family, this is a tally of found coins for the year
Photo: Chronica Domus

I have always been a walker, at least as far back as my failing mind can recall.  My mother doesn't quite remember when exactly I found my legs as a toddler, but I'm sure that when I did, I ambled and sashayed with abandon.  I recall early sturdy and sensible walking shoes always being purchased at Clarks' flagship store on Regent Street in London.  This was certainly a fun adventure for us children being that our feet were always measured using their innovative electronic sizing machine.  The contraption insured the best possible fit in terms of width and length and assured my mother that we children would be kitted out in the best quality shoes she could afford.

Chronica Domus
As a child Chronica Domus was very familiar with these styles of shoe

I am convinced my love of walking has something to do with the fact that I was born in England, a nation that claims walking as its most popular outdoor recreational activity. Walkers in Britain are even granted special walkers' rights enabling them to cross footpaths on both public and private lands.

The British walk for the sheer joy of it, taking in the air and sights of both city and countryside, decked out in their comfortable walking shoes and perhaps a waterproof jacket. Americans, at least in my part of the country, walk for sport in their yoga togs, hurriedly traversing their ground, and constantly checking their heart monitors or pedometers between refreshing sips of water from their bottles.  It is all very exhausting!

My first post-college job required that I travel to London from my home in Kent.  This was a grueling daily commute involving a motor coach and several trains operated by London Underground, as well as walks in between the two modes of transportation.  All this before I even reached my office at 8.45 a.m.  The entire commute was done in reverse during the evening mad rush to get home.  I probably walked at least four miles per day during both journeys to and from work.

Chronica Domus
The Embankment tube station, part of my daily commute into the office

My honeymoon was spent walking for a week in the pristine Emigrant Wilderness, situated in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  This was an entirely new experience for me and one that meant I had to negotiate the terrain of steep granite ridges and mountains (a rare sight in England), verdant meadows and lakes.  That was probably the toughest and longest walk I had ever undertaken, a fact that stands true to this day over two decades later.

When I adopted my first dog upon moving to my new country, I undertook the pleasures of exercising her twice a day.  A short walk in the morning, before leaving for the office, and a more leisurely one at the conclusion of the day.

During my lifetime of walks I have often spotted coins laying about in the streets and roadways, a penny here or a penny there.  I instinctively pick them up.  Will these pennies bring me luck, as the rhyme states?  "Find a penny, pick it up, all day long you'll have good luck".

The first time I came across found money I was no more than a child of nine, playing at the local park.  I recall the fiver wrapped around a scrunched up hand-written note instructing the fishmonger to fulfill "four orders of cod and chips, please".  Surely, a child on an errand for his mother must have dropped the note and money on his way to buy dinner for the family. I felt a sense of sadness for the child. Dinner would not be served in the form of fish and chips that evening but I had no way of knowing to whom I might return the money.

Chronica Domus
A view of Main Street, Jackson, California where we found our loot (note: not much has changed since the 1930's, apart from the motor cars)

The greatest amount of money I ever found was an astonishing nine-hundred dollars, located just outside the door of a small bank in the gold rush town of Jackson, California.  I was with my husband and some friends, and we had traveled to Amador county to spend the weekend at a bed and breakfast and to enjoy countryside walks and nearby towns. Obviously, it did not take us long to conclude that a customer of the bank had withdrawn the money and accidentally dropped it as they were leaving the building.  We stepped inside the bank and made inquiries of the tellers.  We were told an elderly gentleman had taken the money from his account and had only just left the establishment.  We thanked the tellers and set out to find the man in hopes of returning the cash.  It was an easy task as we immediately spotted the gentleman looking bewildered and upset.  We approached him and asked if he needed assistance.  The poor dear explained that he had just lost his son in a tragic motor car accident and had come to the town of Jackson to make funeral arrangements.  The money we had found was intended to help with those costs.  We were all dumbfounded upon hearing his unfortunate tale, but felt terribly satisfied we were able to return the money to the rightful owner.

Last June, I finally decided to seek the answer to a nagging question; precisely how much money do I come across during my day-to-day walks.  I set myself the task of picking up every coin or note I found for exactly one year.  At the end of it, I would have my answer.

At first, I found the odd penny strewn about on the pavements of my regular dog walking route.  Then, I noticed that shortly after the local schools had closed for the duration of the summer holiday, the coins I found were of larger denominations.  Quarters, dimes, and nickels had been dropped from the pockets and little hands of excited school-aged children on their way to the local shops, or perhaps a friend's  home, or to spend the day playing at the local park.  Incidentally, June was the month I found the most coins, followed by July and August.  After the schools were once again in session, my luck had run dry and I was back to picking up the occasional penny.  I did not find any notes during my twelve month experiment, although I did find eleven single dollar bills that were bundled together in a parking garage right before I started my experiment (so those don't count). 

I have just tallied the coins, exactly twelve months to the day after starting my experiment, and found I had collected a grand total of one dollar and fifty-five cents.  This was not exactly a windfall, I'll admit, but it was enough (barely) to buy a small cup of coffee from the local coffee shop.  And, as for luck, I'm not sure if finding all of those pennies has made me a luckier girl or not.  It has certainly trained my eyes to dart about obsessively upon the ground I tread.  I must stop that now.

Do you enjoy walking, and have you found anything of value during your everyday comings and goings?


  1. I am reading this post after just getting back from a walk and finding a Taiwan one-dollar coin, about three cents U.S. I have a jar full of coins that I have found here, as well as some sockets, marbles, and a few run-over pieces of jewelry.

    Every place I have lived, I have developed favorite walks, often to a park, or along a street with interesting houses or buildings. It is my favorite kind of exercise.

  2. Hello Jim, and welcome to the blog.

    Yes, walking is my favorite form of exercise too and I estimate I walk around six to eight miles daily. I am afraid it is a rare day that I darken the door of any gym.

    Have you tallied up the coins in your jar yet? I'd be curious to know how much you've found on your daily walks in Taiwan.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting, and I hope you return often.

  3. I too have found money - invariably coins - but once here the equivalent of USD65. I usually subscribe to the adage "Find a penny...", but now I'm more inclined to try and find a donation box, or a person to whom I might impart my "huge" treasures. I did once find a shiny new penny outside St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh near to where we were living. I had been in to say a prayer for my terminally ill mother, (called Penny), and I found it upon exiting. Hope sprang eternal, but sadly not my mother's life, so no miracle or happy ending to that story. But I carry it to this day in my coin purse, much as..."I carry your heart with me, I carry it in my heart...", not that I need it to remind me of her.

  4. Hello Columnist,

    What a touching story you've shared of your shiny penny and its signifigance to you, thank you. I can see why you carry it around with you.

    I entirely forgot about the time I found a woman's handbag in a parking garage of a hospital. Inside was a scan that told me the owner of the bag would soon become a mother. Not only that, a child's milk bottle was in there too, which lead me to believe the owner also had a young toddler. She must have placed the bag besides her car while strapping in her child and drove off without the bag. The most astonishing thing was the four-hundred dollars that was stashed in an envelope had not already been taken by someone else. I managed to track down the owner, who was beside herself with joy that her bag was found. She explained that after her doctor appointment, she had intended to deposit the money in the bank on behalf of her church. The money was the sum total of the collection plate from Sunday's service. Apparently, I am destined for heaven now, according to this woman.

  5. I love a good walk. Especially in the city on a Sunday. Just wander and explore. You can see and experience so much more on foot than in a car. I walk every day with the dogs and although we do not come across any pennies, we stumble upon the wildlife of Woodcock Pocket in all its variety.

    Several years ago when the offspring were little Mr Bebe and I stole away for a wknd in Vegas and, fun though it was, we had to take a break from the lights and bells and drive out to a national park. In the desert we walked around for the day in the heat and the stillness examining the ancient petroglyphs on the rocks and looking out over the broad desert vistas.

  6. Hello Bebe,

    Yes, I agree, on foot around a city is the best way to see it. Back in London, I used to love getting lost down any old street, never knowing exactly where I'd end up. I would never be very far from an underground station when it was time to go home.

    When I was still dating my future husband, we took a road trip through the southwestern United States and recall doing exactly what you did, in reverse. We drove through the stunning scenery that is Death Valley, stopped the car and walked all over. It was February so the weather was on the cooler side. We then drove into Vegas. What a shock compared to the tranquility and natural beauty that we had just experienced in the valley.

  7. Walking is one of the things I miss about NYC where i lived for many years. I laugh at myself when I visit now as I am not used to the tempo and find myself more often than not on the far right of the sidewalk lest I get trampled by the crowds. In all my years there I never had to watch my weight. Now it's a different story. Every day I watch the neighbors walk by with their dogs and strollers and make a mental note to start tomorrow. It's been five years now and I'm 15 lbs heavier. Maybe one of these days I'll see the light!

    As to pennies, the last time I thought they were cool was in penny loafers. Remember those?


    1. Hello Lindaraxa,

      Cities are certainly made for walking, especially places such as New York and London where, sometimes, getting in a taxi, bus or train is more of a pain than taking a walk to one's destination.

      I urge you to grab your dog leash and ready yourselves for a good daily walk. Half the battle is is won the moment you grab that leash. Once your dog sees it, his enthusiasm will dictate that there is no turning back and a walk, one way or another, will commence pronto.

      Although I am familiar with the term penny loafers, and have seen them being worn around, I had no idea of the tradition to place a penny in them until I just looked it up. This must be an American tradition.

    2. The loafers had to be the Weejuns made by Bass. They were very popular in boarding schools and Ivy League campuses in the late 50's and 60's. It was the preppy essence of cool. Too bad our friend Reggie is not around. He would regale us with a couple of stories, although this fashion might be before his time .
      In the meantime, here is something from Brooks Brother's the fashion mecca of preppy cool.


    3. Well, thank you for that great link Lindaraxa. Everything has been revealed as to why the penny is kept in the shoe. I've seen these loafers around the office on certain gentlemen but never with a penny in them. We live and learn daily.

  8. My father was an inveterate walker who never failed to pick up any shiny object on the ground that he spied, be it a penny or in one instance an 18K gold necklace in the snow! I guess that's how I inherited my fondness for walking and habit of picking up coins. Shortly after his passing away, I was visiting my sister in Manhattan. We were walking in Chinatown and I spied what appeared to be a silver dime. "It's dirty. Don't pick it up," my sister warned. I did anyway and stuck it in my pocket. Later I examined it and realized it was a zinc penny from 1943 and worth considerably more than a penny or a dime. "Pennies from heaven," I thought. My father had given me a book on coins and I looked up this penny in his book. It felt like a sign that he was looking after me still.

    1. Hello Anon,

      What a wonderful story you share here, thank you. It just goes to show that not only is walking a healthy pursuit, it also brings us unexpected joys in that one never quite knows what will be found on one's merry way, including cherished memories of loved ones.

      Thank you for stopping by and leaving your comment. I do hope you'll drop in again.


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