Bills? They didn't really do it for me. Sure, they were worth a lot more in a sense, we knew that even then, but I didn't much care for them anyway. You couldn't really do anything with them after all, and they always smelled funny, since most such money came from the capacious shiny black handbags of my great aunts. Far more welcome were the coins and butterscotch candies that were known to hide in those parts. Bills were OK, but they weren't money!
I had pennies, many beautiful shiny (and dull, and everything in between) copper pennies. (And a couple of steelies.) Common, yet colorful. Nickels, made of (I suppose) nickel. Smooth and heavy. Real players. Dimes. Small, but usually shiny, and with a gorgeous tiny sound. Many of them still silver at that time. Quarters. Big, heavy, ridged, traction-ey. Coins of presence. Also usually shiny, and some were still silver. I may have had a few of the larger coins, but then, as now, they were fairly rare. (Silver dollars were in a separate hoard, under Mom's control. We each had a few.) Quarters were the big game in town.
I loved the smell of coins, the odd metallic smell your hands would take on when handling them. The various coins smelled differently, just as they sounded different. A favorite game was to identify dropped change by sound. (Forty-odd years later I still do that, but the various debasements [and perhaps my own aging ears] have changed the sounds and it doesn't seem to work nearly so well. They all sound Canadian to me now.) For greater difficulty, drop several blind and see how well you could identify them all. I loved their weight, the heft of the accumulation of such treasure.
This accumulation was a slow process. Various pocket gifts, especially from visiting relatives, were responsible for most of it. One could find abandoned coins on the ground when out shopping, and a sharp eye would usually find at least one such treasure on a trip. Being closer to the ground helped, but one had to be fast in the presence of brothers.
We were given coin purses in which to contain the treasure of years. Mine was the most full, I was quite proud of that (though as eldest this was no great feat). I remember every detail of my dime-store vault: that lovely soft vinyl case with the loop on the back, the zipper close on the arched top, the shape so like a half-slice of Christmas ham. (Mmmm, ham.) The front was clear so you could see the coins winking coyly at you, begging for a chance to come out to play, or even (on rare occasions) to be traded for that most desired rarity: candy. I loved the heft and sound of this embarrassment of riches, the way it nestled in your hand. You could shake it and listen to the chunk of limitless wealth. (This is where the bills really failed, their fluffy presence completely spoiled the feel, sight, and sound of the aggregate performance.) You could pour it out in a cascade of possibilities, fill it up, and pour it out again; trickle it through your fingers, feel the wash of wealth. I loved its portability. You could take it in the car on a shopping trip into Portland, hugging to yourself the knowledge that you could perhaps trade away some of the less valuable players and purchase something! You could play with it on a park bench, watching the coins slither over themselves in the sun in an ever-changing display of riches...
...You could come back looking for it half an hour later.
That was a costly lesson. Things did not disappear at home, but the same could not be said of a park in downtown Portland. I suppose now that I lost perhaps $10–20, though I'm sure I could have told you then nearly to the penny, but it was everything! I was disconsolate for days, and I suppose never did get completely over it. (Consider that I was moved to write this, after all.) Coins continued to dribble in in their usual fashion, and a new repository of some sort was found to put them in, but things thereafter were never the same. Treasure could be lost! Stolen, even.
Innocence a bit damaged, youth somewhat diminished, I never again took the bank with me on a trip, and I don't really recall ever enjoying the eventual replacement trove as much as I had the original. Stingy before, I was probably worse afterwards.
That's another reason I never really took much to bills. Coins might squeak when pulled from my grasp, but the bills tended to tear.
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