Tuesday, October 8, 2013

October Memoir-And-Backstory-Blog-Challenge - Childhood Experience With Money - Silver Dollars

October Memoir-And-Backstory-Blog-Challenge
created and hosted by Jane Ann McLachlan

Silver Dollars 
Morgan Dollar by Piotr Siedleckil

My first experience with money per se were the silver dollars (always old ones from the 1800's) that my grandfather would ceremoniously award each Chanukah.   I'm not precisely certain what calculations he used but I do know that the number expanded from my first single single dollar to over two hundred by the time I was twelve. From time to time during the year I'd take them out from a special bank where I'd keep them, look at their dates, imagine the people who had held them and - no- never spent a single one.  Never did I even think of them as currency (although my younger brother would take his "loot" each year and immediately buy something as soon as he could find someone to take him anywhere that would take his money for some treasure that caused as the family would say the money to "burn a hole in his pocket."  I felt no such burn, the silver dollars, the patina the way they reflected light, the edges that were grooved along my finger tips were sacred to me, in some way they were Chanukah silver and somehow, if not precisely sacrosanct, absolutely precious to me as entities unto themselves.

And then sometime after my twelfth birthday we moved - to a house rather than an apartment.  A three bedroom house which meant that my brother and I could have our own rooms.  I remember visiting that model home and seeing a small bedroom off the kitchen decorated with a girlish bedspread of red Valentinish hearts and a small white pillow and sighing.  I gladly accepted my mother's offer to me - smaller room and new furniture or larger room and the furniture with which we were moving.  We moved and true to my mother's word I did get some stylish Danish modern furniture although I was not permitted my choice of bedspread or color or so forth.  A story for another time.  At any rate, shortly after we were settled, I asked my mother about my silver dollars.  She told me that she had DEPOSITED THEM IN THE BANK.  I can't remember voicing the outrage and shock and grief that pounded through me - I was a rather serious and polite child at that point, besides the deed was done, and I believed the intentions absolutely pure if misguided.

And then five years later it was time to leave for college and I wondered delicately about that bank account. My mother told me as casually as a leaf on the autumn air that she had bought my bedroom furniture with that money.  Years and years later, when my own son was born and began to celebrate Chanukah his great grandmother (my grandfather died rather young) began to give him silver dollars for Chanukah - old ones, from the 1800's solid silver and glowing.  Each one was placed into an envelope and dated.  My son is now a grown man, the envelopes sit in the bottom of my study drawer where he has asked me to keep them.  Safe.

I learned an early lesson here, that money itself as a commodity held no interest for me, but that the coin itself was beautiful and filled with history.  I learned that for others even the most beautiful coin filled with actual and sentimental history was but an agent of barter with no intrinsic value.  Most profoundly I learned that a child and a parent can be of the same cellular material but whirl to a different life dynamic and that is not a cause for blame but for exploration.  An exploration that continues to fascinate me to this very day.


  1. What a fascinating story - I shared your outrage both times you mother "betrayed" your faith. I love the way you put it the second time - "as casually as a leaf on the autumn air" - because a leaf on the air in autumn is a dying thing. Very beautiful. I'm so glad you ended with you keeping your son's dollars safe - and him being of like mind with you!

  2. You are a great storyteller, Pearl. I so wanted to hug that little girl whose coins were taken without her permission. I like the attitude of the woman she grew into. Beautiful write!

  3. What a wonderful story, Pearl. Much enjoyed it. Sad that your special silver dollars are no longer with you, but how nice the tradition is being passed down to the new generation. I am sure your son will treasure them and your care of them.

  4. Oh Pearl, I felt so sad for you when I read about your loss. Things with more (emotional) value than can ever be replaced, but it's wonderful that you now keep your son's silver dollars safe. A beautiful story. I enjoyed reading.

  5. You strike me as a craftsperson the way you examine the coin, as well as wondering who held the coinage before you. I do the same thing. Especially with something that has real history to it. I would never use those dollars for buying things either, Unless they were my last dollar. But you are right, people value things differently. Happy to see that family tradition continue. It's nice to have this kind of continuity in a family I think.

  6. What a beautiful, heartbreaking, thoughtful post. I can picture you as a young girl and the betrayal you must have felt. I've also always been more of the type to get upset inside, not outside.

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