Parents amaze me with the unending list of things they do and sacrifices they make to ensure the best for their children, mostly with no notice and little praise (except on days like Father’s Day). I’ve written before about the gifts my mother and father gave me (here and here) and I doubt my dad would mind me sharing what I think of as his ‘Wheaties Wisdom’ this Father’s Day…
My dad was a depression-era baby and grew up with 5 siblings in The Meadows of Philadelphia, an area now largely taken over by PHL. His family didn’t have much money but he never seemed bitter or angry about this, since all his friends and relatives lived the same way. He’d tell me stories about my grandmother riding her horse to the corner store to get groceries ‘on the tab’ or swimming in the Delaware near the German POW camp on hot summer afternoons. He worked at his grandfather’s Hog Island area dump from an early age and had lots of funny stories about things they found (including a tale involving the Liberty Bell I am still not sure was true or not). All of his memories contained an element of scrappiness and hard work and nowadays when I think of my dad I always thank him for passing on these same values in me.
When my parents married at 18 and 23 they started out with the support of their families and little else. I can still remember our small apartment, the hand cranked washing machine, and getting our first black and white television set. I can’t remember my parents ever having a lot of ‘stuff’; in my dad’s case, he and his brothers were makers and so he had the boats and bikes they built and raced. As a life-long student he also, always, had reference books (mathematics, physics, engineering, and aviation) and a collection of Wheat pennies, which is where I come into the story.
I guess I was around 14 when I discovered his penny stash. I had no idea each roll of 50 coins were all Wheat issue, or how uncommon finding a Wheaties penny was, or how many years he’d been amassing his collection. All I knew when I came across a heavy shoebox in my parents closet was I has found rolls and rolls of pennies, which could be traded in for quarters, which could be used to fuel my overwhelming desire to play pinball. I figured he would never miss a roll or two and so I started to deplete his stash in a fairly short period of time. To his credit, in all the years I knew my dad he never said a word to me about my theft and I am almost certain I never brought up the subject to him either since I am still a little ashamed of what I did.
Perhaps to atone for my theft, I now have my own slowly-growing collection of Wheat pennies. Each time I add one of these rare coins to my penny jar I smile and think of my dad and what I think of as his ‘Wheaties Wisdom’, which I interpret as ‘possessions mean little when measured against those you love’. My dad wasn’t a particularly spiritual guy and would laugh at any mystical meaning behind finding a penny, but that doesn’t stop me from knowing he’s sending me a little of his wisdom and love whenever I find add another Wheaties find to my collection.