Rolling Coins

My grandfather was a stoic man, a man of few words and little affection. As kids we were instructed never to hug or kiss Papa. He didn’t like it, we were told, and it never occurred to me that his behavior might be considered odd. It was just Papa. He didn’t smother us with squeezes and hugs or pull us onto his lap for stories or snuggling. My grandfather demonstrated his love in less traditional ways.

He made my sister and me pancakes from scratch on sleepover Saturday mornings, always drizzling the batter into gingerbread men or flowers or animals. He called the droplets that sizzled on the skillet the “smallest pancakes in the world” and sang “Michelle, my belle” over and over again as he stood at the stove.

He let us ride up front with him in his giant Bonneville with the pea green velour upholstery, the three of us shoulder-to-shoulder on the vast seat, Linda Ronstadt crooning from the eight-track player.

He took us to feed the ducks at Forest Park, Wonder bags filled with heels and crumbs to toss wildly at the quacking masses.

Papa also taught me how to roll coins. He'd dump Hellmann's jars filled with change onto the kitchen table next to stacks of coin rolls, those slender slips of brown Kraft paper color-coded according to the coins they held: orange for the $10 quarter wrappers, green for the $5 dimes, blue for the $2 nickels and red for the lowly pennies. My grandfather survived the Depression, so he always appreciated the value of a coin, even the penny. He didn't suffer as much as many people did during that bleak time – he held a steady job making guns at the Springfield Armory – but still, he learned to save change. 

From him I learned how to take the flat paper and gently squeeze the center until it popped into a slender tube. I learned how to insert one finger, usually the pointer, to form a stable platform on the bottom onto which to drop the coins one by one. In an effort to expedite the process I often tried dropping three, even four, coins in at a time, but it didn't pay to rush – the coins would usually jam sideways, and I would be forced to dump out the entire contents of the tube and begin again.

We sat quietly at the dinette, Papa and I, plastic placemats sticking to our forearms, gentle clink of dropping change, hypnotic tock of the wall clock and a hissing radiator the only sounds in the small kitchen. When we finished, four piles of rolled coins stood stacked like Egyptian pyramids on the table.

Next Papa would meticulously inscribe each roll with his name, address and telephone number in ballpoint pen, each letter curling in elaborate script. Then he'd drop the decorated rolls into a paper lunch bag, ready to take to the bank. My grandfather had the most beautiful handwriting, elegant and sophisticated like calligraphy. He graced all correspondence, from the electric bill to graduation cards, with this script – even the humble penny roll rose to regal status under his hand. 

Finally, he'd hand the last labeled roll over to me: pennies or nickels or dimes, on rare occasions a roll of quarters. I'd hold the heaviness in my palm, Michelle Marie festooned in curves and curls, dips and swirls. A work of art in blue ballpoint ink.

Has anyone ever demonstrated their love for you in an unexpected, but no less meaningful way?


And a word of thanks for your overwhelming show of support yesterday about my announcement! I was grinning madly all day -- love you all! Thank you! 

Jean Wise  – (February 9, 2011 at 9:41 AM)  

What a neat, neat memory! Reminded me of the time my husband and I decided to count all the dimes we have been saving for vacation. Had them in an oversized wine bottle and collected dimes as that was the only coin to fit through the top. We ended up with more than $700 in dime and were surrounded by rolls of coins. Thanks for bringing back a fun memory for me.

The Farmer Files  – (February 9, 2011 at 1:07 PM)  

Handwritten script is such a beautiful memory. I save the box my mom addressed to me right before her stroke filled with Christmas decorations. Her handwriting has never been the same since.

Tana Adams  – (February 9, 2011 at 4:27 PM)  

I love the image of feeling the weight of the rolled coins. You really do have a great voice! The one memory of my grandfather that has never left me is when he used to comb my hair getting me ready for Kindergarten. He would have me stand and rotate in a circle until he hand gone through each section.

Laura  – (February 9, 2011 at 5:40 PM)  

Michelle, this is such a wonderful memory. What a sweet granddad, and how neat that you feel his love even without the hugs and kisses.

Tiffini  – (February 9, 2011 at 6:34 PM)  

yes...lately...never before seen friends praying on my behalf...8 track I remember those from when I was little

Jo-Ann  – (February 9, 2011 at 6:41 PM)  

Michelle -- Thanks for stopping by my site -- Ruby is a "normal" little girl now after a very shaky start and except for being small she is age appropriate in all other ways. She's our little miracle granddaughter and we couldn't be happier!

I had a grandpa who didn't hug either but I sure knew he loved me!!

Deidra  – (February 9, 2011 at 7:07 PM)  

My grandfather wasn't very demonstrative, either. But I knew he loved me. He'd let me ride in the front seat of his old green pick-up truck. That was a big deal. I know it sounds like a small thing, but it wasn't. That pick-up truck was special.

Jennifer  – (February 9, 2011 at 8:51 PM)  

What a sweet tribute to your grandfather. I only knew one of my granddads, and he wasn't very affectionate. However, whenever I was visiting, he would always let me rub his arm with the alcohol swab before he got his insulin shot. I was his little nurse. And to a four-year-old, that's an important job. :)

H. Gillham  – (February 11, 2011 at 8:53 AM)  


I love this post. I know that those survivors of the Depression did understand coins. As this generation grows up, using plastic to pay for things, I don't know that they will know what it was like to have a coin.

My mother's cousin Flo [you gotta love that name] was childless, and she and her husband were thrilled when my mother marched her four children over to see them. Flo's husband Floyd called me "Richard," in some sense of humor that I didn't understand but knew that it was funny, and every time I left, he hand me a Buffalo nickel and said, "Save that, Richard."

I was thrilled to get that coin, and I held it in my hand, examining it and turning it over and over until my hand smelled of silver. I don't know what happened to all those nickels, but I am sure I popped them into some nickel machine and got some worthless fuzzy prize or drink.

But, your post brought back that memory of him and his act of love for me.


Kim  – (February 11, 2011 at 10:01 AM)  

This post brings tears today. I'm reminded of my grandpa, rolling coins the same way, patiently sorting, cradling, packaging, folding, stacking. He kept coins in a clear, flat pig on the desk in his office. I would always ask if I could have some coins, and he would say no, he was saving them up, to wrap into rolls. I would nod gravely, beginning to understand the value of saving. After he died, my grandfather gave that pig to my daughter. It sits on her shelf. And I've never told her this story. Today I will.

Dawn  – (February 13, 2011 at 8:19 PM)  

your memories bring my own swirling to the surface. my grandpa was a pancake maker (big to fill the hole pan) and feeding the ducks was "our thing." i try to recall his handwriting but it escapes me. but my gramma's stands out... and makes me smile

Jo-Ann  – (April 27, 2011 at 10:59 AM)  

Michelle -- Thanks for stopping by my site -- Ruby is a "normal" little girl now after a very shaky start and except for being small she is age appropriate in all other ways. She's our little miracle granddaughter and we couldn't be happier!

I had a grandpa who didn't hug either but I sure knew he loved me!!

Post a Comment

All material and photographs copyrighted Michelle DeRusha 2012

  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP