Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Penny Ante

The news hardly stirred a ripple below the 49th parallel, but word came down from Canada last week that our friendly neighbors to the north are about to do away with their pennies. Because they costs 50% more to produce than what they are worth, “the Royal Canadian Mint will end its production this fall as part of (an) austerity budget,” the Associated Press reported (

Hardly a press-stopper, but its implications to American society and commerce no doubt will be felt in the coming years, as our government, too, considers shelving the penny to save money. I doubt many people will lament its passing, except for those of us old enough to share nostalgic memories of penny candy bars, long stick pretzels, two-cents plain sodas, and the fun of pitching pennies against a wall.

I’ll be particularly sad as I associate pennies with one of my most vivid childhood memories—the weekly, Friday night poker games my parents ran for our family of five and two or three of my brother’s teenage friends, Jerry, Stanley, and Michael. As our home was less observant than Bernie’s friends’ homes were, they would file in one by one after their Sabbath eve meals concluded. I never knew if their parents were aware they were violating the Orthodox prohibition on touching money on the Sabbath.

I suspect we started playing poker around the time I was eight-years-old, my sister Lee, 10, and Bernie, 12. Stakes were penny-two. The games were noisy, rowdy affairs, often punctuated by complaints that Michael had sweaty hands and was bending the cards out of shape.

Our parents treated us like adults sitting across a card table. If we were old enough to play, we were old enough to lose, and lose graciously. We usually played deuces wild, seven card stud. Sometimes, jacks or better. I can’t rightly remember how much money we’d start off with, but I definitely can recall many a time I’d have to excuse myself for a few minutes while I went into my bedroom to coax more pennies out of my clear glass piggy bank. Overall, I’d say I won as often as I lost, but I surely learned more proper behavior from the times I left the game lighter, and with eyes not as dry as when I sat down to play.

We played poker for several years until our father returned from a trip to Japan when I was 11. He came back with rules for a Chinese card game, Fan-tan. I don’t fully remember all the strategies of the game, but here’s a link if you’re interested in the rules:

Fan-tan kept our interest for a little while, until we began playing a version of Hearts that incorporated some aspects of Fan-tan.

For about six years, card games were our weekly Friday night diversion, except during the summer when we’d be away at camp. All that changed, however, when Bernie entered Brooklyn College. Our mother decided we needed a more cerebral pursuit, so she initiated Friday night Scrabble games. Bernie and I became quite proficient, but Scrabble did not have the same appeal to his friends, nor to our father. Lee, Bernie’s friends, and Bernie, as well, awakened to more hormonal interests. Friday night at the Forseters no longer enjoyed communal status. Now, it’s only a matter of time before the penny loses its currency status.

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