by Elaine Corrington
When Memory of a Childhood Goal Meets Archived History of a Goal Memory from the Same Time Period Clear Across the Nation- and Inspires Ideas for New Goals in the Present
Maybe because I was tall when I was a child, whenever family, friends and neighbors saw me, they always expected more from me than I could actually do. There were many times they thought I should be doing more. At the age of three, my sister had just been born, and my parents thought “enough.” They decided to make sure that I brushed my teeth often and well. They started leaving pennies in a pretty little dish on the back of the toilet beside the sink in our single bathroom. I was told that every time I did a good job, I could take a penny from the dish and put it in my personal penny jar. In those days, having five pennies meant that you could buy five pieces of gum or chocolate- or a grand nickel item from the many tabletop possibilities at the elegant Dime Store in our California home town.
The notion that I could actually gather a dime was far from my pool of purchasing possibilities. In my mind, you had to spend the penny jar money before you left the store. At first, I had to yell to my parents to come (or run and find them with my wet and bubbly toothbrush) and demonstrate my sterling success with my shiny teeth. If approved, I could rinse the toothbrush and take the penny and put it in my jar. Later, skill meant I could judge for myself- and I never cheated. Saturday morning, I got to go use my earnings from the week. I always used every penny from that week.
Now, a number of decades later, I am archiving historical documents, and have run into a number of documents from that same time period in Liberty, NY– clear across the nation. Liberty was very small then, with few stores to stop by and get necessities. There was a small area in a local medical building that made space available for people with disabilities to receive treatment they needed for conditions and injuries that had no other options. Families at the time who needed and wanted more, donated what they could, and dreamed of options far grander than those that could be offered for the people they loved. Not common at the time, the Penny Jars for these dreams appeared at the checkout areas, and some people who could afford it or wanted to contribute to this idea, could leave a penny or even larger amounts of change in the jars as they checked out…and maybe discussed how the collections might be used. The change was collected weekly, with amounts ranging from the small amounts I had earned and used in California to even a couple of dollars after awhile with more donors contributing. This was WORKING! How could they get the word out even more??
This was, of course, long before videos, television, regular use of any kind of typewriters, electric typewriters, copy machines. Pencils were more common than pens. Even paper had to be searched for at times. A couple of sentences were written down on paper by the penny jar monitors, and left in the penny jars so that people could get the latest news on what was being done with the money, what the dreams might be, and offering the generous donors the chance to make suggestions about fund-raising or using options. Liberty United Cerebral Palsy grew into a fundraising and idea-raising fund that earned great praise and support, eventually growing into today’s caring, expanding and sharing The Center for Discovery.
Penny jar magic. Still here. I now put change from my wallet in a penny jar at the end of the day, and into an account for preferred repeated support, or special little local projects, or even funny neighborhood items. Sometimes it is just a penny at the end of the day, and sometimes it is more, because I spilled some change in my purse and didn’t want to search for change at that moment. Every penny brings the smile and the memory back.