A Can of Pennies

Relationship: Child of im/migrant

My mother saved pennies in a 40 lb tin can that originally held lard sold as Manteca to our largely Mexican clientele.    This was her stash, quietly taken from the daily count of coins after each evening’s closing of our little grocery store.   For us, the better count was on Chinese New Year.  Instead of just pennies, she took all the coins, counted the bounty with a great show, and divvied stacks of coins of equal value to each of us kids who worked with Mom after school and on weekends.  Our year’s payoff.   In those days, I thought all Chinese families worked in grocery stores or restaurants, except for the Wong’s who grew Chinese vegetables instead. 

My mom’s penny stash grew and grew.  I thought the floor in her bedroom closet would collapse under the can’s weight.  One day, our town bank called Mom for pennies because they had run out.  When she passed away, brother Mel sorted the pennies, spreading them by the double handful to find the “Indian head” and rare one that might be worth more than a cent.  He wrapped them into tubes of fifty and gradually emptied the can.  He took his time.  And, we were fine with that.  Sometimes my sisters helped, divvying the work of wrapping Mom’s pennies, which were all I remember she had ever kept for herself from a lifetime devoted to the family at the store. 

Place(s): Orosi, California

– Ted Gong, 1882 Foundation

Relationship:  Child of im/migrant Child of im/migrant