Just now and then, when the mood strikes, and I have some time on my hands, I go into the hiding place in our house, and pull out the box that probably more than 55 years ago was covered with a fancy green contact paper, carry it over to the dining room table, and take a little while to look through my coin collection. Now, I’m sure many of you have coin collections of your own, all neatly secured in plastic cases, with gold double eagles, and rare and unusual coins both from our country and from around the world. That’s not exactly what mine looks like.
For some strange, and never to explained reason, when we returned from our two year stay in Australia and I was seven years old, as we were taking time to visit relatives in Omaha, my dad handed me a pretty large pile of Australian coins that he had brought back with him. Now, I should say that when we lived in Australia, there was a very nice lady that Mom knew who lived up the street, and she had the habit of giving me unusual coins from all over the world, when she would come to visit. I must have just been cute as the dickens or something, but after a couple of years, I probably had 20-30 coins of all shapes and sizes.
Dad’s contribution to the Randy coin collection was huge, however. In Australia at that time, they had the large copper pennies, and even copper half-pennies, and there were even some farthings – ¼ of a cent, that had come from England. That alone can tell you how far we have come when today, folks will drop a penny on the ground and not bother to pick it up. What could you buy with ¼ cent? Along with the Aussie coins, since Dad had gone on flights all over the south east Asia territory, I had coins, and even a paper bill from Malaya and Borneo, along with other wonderful treasures. I remember the only thing Dad said was that if there was ever a time when I would no longer want to collect coins, that he had the first chance to buy the coins from me. That never happened.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I was in Cub Scouts, where I had the chance to earn some sort of badge or award for doing crafty things. One of the badges directed the cub to have a hobby of some sort. Mom reminded me of my coin collection, which suddenly became an important hobby! Part of the badge was creating an attractive way to store your hobby, so I found an old cigar box (who didn’t have cigar boxes lying around in their homes back in the 60s? I never saw one smoked, but it was there anyway). As was appropriate, since we had recently repainted our charcoal grill, I used the remaining spray paint to paint the box inside and out with a shiny black hue. Next, to make it even fancier, I took the Elmer’s glue bottle and wrote the word “Coins” on the top lid, and then poured glitter all over it, so the glitter would stick and broadcast a very fancy indeed box for my collection. Yes, I still have it.
Eventually, I found out you could protect your coins by putting them in individual plastic pockets of sorts that had a flap that would fold over and seal it safely. I talked Mom into buying me some, and spent a great deal of time putting the coins in the sheathes, and the taking little pieces of paper, and writing in my typical 8-9 year old pencil handwriting the type and denomination of each coin in my collection. French Lira, English threepence, coins from Turkey, Japan, Mexico and a dozen more countries all were now properly labeled and stored safely in my black box, which sat in my green contact paper box.
The thing about coin collections when you are a child is that you have to be either wealthy or lucky. I guess I was more lucky, since I would always be able to find unusual coins in change that I had. Of course, back in the 60s, we still had tons of coins in circulation that more extrinsic value that today’s coins. Silver quarters and dimes, pennies with the “wheat” on the back – I discovered the blue folders that invited you to collect pennies and such by the year, and I was able to find, out of normal change, pennies from 1908 and even earlier, which were Indian head cents, and ones from the 40s that were actually steel pennies – imagine!
Little by little, my collection grew – not so much in value, but in variety. There were months that went by when no new acquisition was made, and then there would a flurry of new donations. I discovered silver certificate dollars, with a beautiful blue coloring, and even federal notes, with red printing. How fascinating! I never did go out and buy a coin or a dollar from a dealer or something like that. I always believed that collecting meant something you found.
I must say, however, that the most cherished coin in one that Mom gave me on my 13th birthday. I had seen it before from time to time when allowed to look at things from her dresser – beautiful stuff – but for my birthday, Mom gave me a 1908 Danish 20 Kroner gold piece. Not just any gold piece – THE gold coin that her stepfather, Niles Jorgensen, had brought back from a trip to Denmark long ago. It was uncirculated, shiny and in near perfect condition. By that age, I knew better than to manhandle it, so I carefully put it between two cotton balls and slid it into the plastic protector pocket of its very own. I’m not sure why Mom gave it to me – but I cherish it, not because today it has pretty good value, but because it was a link to an entire part of my family tree. It sits today, in cotton, in the pocket, safe and sound and as shiny as it has ever been.
Well, I won’t give you an entire inventory of the collection – in Dad’s trips around the world as a navigator with the Air Force, he would bring back both coins and bills from around the globe – Japan, Laos, Thailand, Turkey, Lebanon, Panama, and more. Today, they all sit quietly and carefully in a box inside a box in my hidden space in my home.
I have to wonder, however, what the collection might look like today if I had been truly intentional about collecting. As it is, it’s a nice little accidental collection, with pieces that came from all over, and just happened to find their way to my box in a box. I have no regrets – that’s the way I collected coins, and they still fascinate me, especially now in the light of so many countries, and our own, changing coins and bills and currency, and now seeing that I hold on to things that no longer exist “in the wild.” I do still enjoy something new to the collection, and I never pass over bending down and picking up a penny from the parking lot or sidewalk. I always say, “Find a penny pick it up, all day long you’ll have… a penny.”
There may come a time when I become more intentional, or find a grandchild someday who will do just that. As for now, it can exist as one of those accidental parts of my life, but it still fills me with joy to, now and then, go into the hidden place and… I hope you have something like that for your own life, too.
Word for the day: jactancy. Pronounced JAK-tuhn-see. It’s almost a direct line from the Latin, although today it means far different than the Latin verb. Jacere, means “to throw.” Added to that word is the Latin jactare, which also means to throw, but also “to boast.” So today, although it’s not often used, jactancy means “boastfulness, bragging.” Apparently, you just throw something into the world that is a wild and puffed-up statement, and you have participated in jactancy! It’s probably not the best use of time of a reasonable individual to give him or herself over to be jactant, wouldn’t you agree?
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.