Daddy’s Penny Box

Daddy's Penny Box

small cardboard box, plain white, probably once covered with the dark green Marshall Field cover.

It’s sometimes hard to hold on to a dream, or make a plan work out. The very definition of “life” includes disappointment. But humanity has dealt with this by educating people that can help us: doctors, counselors, lawyers etc. They study so that they can supply us with help and care when our dreams, our bodies are failing. Today, you can search the net for advice if you want to be a photographer, writer, artist—the list is endless. Our endeavors are endless. And complicated.

But notice, I have yet to mention the first person each of us encounters who begins the process: comforts us when we have pain; praises us when we do the right thing and scolds and should explain why, when do the wrong thing. Parents. Parent. Guardian. The one who is there when we need to be fed and our diapers changed. The beginning.

Growing up I had one parent. I lost my father when I was three. (Many of you already know this.) But my two brothers and I had this amazing woman for a mother. A loving, complicated, intelligent woman (Jinni) who probably never sought out a grief counselor when left with three children to raise—ages: 3 months, 3 and 6 years. How the hell did she do it?

Jinni had her own family behind her (mother, father, brother and two single sisters), people used to working for a purpose, people whose first reaction to a sad and complicated situation was kindness and how can I help.

But no person suddenly bereft of the one they counted on, bereft of the vision they had of their future finds this a happy fact. Jinni certainly had her moments of doubt and fear. But then she went on. There are so many examples of this in my personal story. Can you think of one in yours? If so, it’s good to be grateful.

Jinni’s three kids are older now, and though she lived into her late nineties, she shines bright and vigorous in our minds and always will.

But I’m going to take you back to our house in Chicago, to our dining room that had built-in cabinets with glass doors above and yet a cabinet below that was child accessible. In this cabinet was a small cardboard box, plain white, probably once covered with the dark green Marshall Field & Co. cover. But it was open and into it Jinni tossed pennies—change from her trips to the store. She called it Daddy’s Penny Box, because she started it after he died, and probably because when going through his top dresser drawer, she found a bunch of pennies.

In our Southside neighborhood, there was a deli that we could walk to in under five minutes. It had a counter with candy displayed in a glass case. We called it Mary’s Candy Store, and many times we would interrupt Jinni, who might be typing insurance policies in the corner of our dining room to pay the bills, to ask if we could go to Mary’s. In my memory, 99% of the time she said yes. And we knew what to do. Grab a few pennies from the box and go. Keary Moran, who lived on our street, once relayed to the neighborhood that we were rich! Of course we weren’t, but he was a kid. He’d seen all those pennies in the box.

But here’s the thing. We were rich. We had Jinni. When she sold our house years later, after my brothers had moved out of state, after I was married and teaching high school, there were still pennies in that box! Lots of them. Jinni believed in us and in our lives and our dreams. Daddy’s Penny Box was a symbol of that belief and promise. It could never become empty because her counsel, her care, her belief in our dreams and goals would never falter. Maybe we should have renamed it, Jinni’s Penny Box. But she would have said no.

My mother was given a major disappointment, one she had not expected. She accepted the help of family, friends, doctors (many who knew my father) and a lawyer friend. But that was early on. Once she got her stride, Jinni instinctively knew what to do. The Penny Box was part of that. She gave love and attention to her three kids. She fulfilled a dream–that she could succeed on her own, and in doing that, she helped fulfill ours.

My older brother is John C. Pfordresher, professor of English at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. His book THE SECRET HISTORY OF JANE EYRE has just been published by Norton. You can read more about it here. 

Daddy's Penny Box

No small accomplishment. Dad would be proud.








My younger brother is William F. Pfordresher (Bill) who went to LA in the early 70s to make it in the music business. HE DID. Read about him here.

And me, I have an amazing husband and family I hold dear. And though I’m  enjoying the process of writing a novel, I still have some dreams to fulfill.

Photo credit: Ebay, Amazon









13 thoughts on “Daddy’s Penny Box

  1. If there is an expert in “all things Pfordresher”, it is my sister Beth. She has a memory that is hard to question. Daddy’s Penny Box was always just there, with an endless supply of pennies. Kind of like the loaves and fishes in the Bible. I had always thought it was initiated by our Dad emptying his pockets into this box when his trousers were too full of change. But after 3 children dipping into it for years, Jinni must have had a hand in keeping it going. But that was Jinni. One of the memories of Dad that she quietly cultivated, so that her three children would never forget him, at any age. And they haven’t and they will never forget her either because she gave wings to all of us to fly in the directions of our dreams. And here we are…..

    • Perfectly said. Thanks! Yes, she must have added to the amount over the years, but that was nothing compared to what she added to our lives overall. Keep flying, ME

  2. Dear Beth
    thanks for your most recent Blog post on the “penny box.” The old Marshall Field’s image is a beautiful way to segue into your account of our shared wealth when we were young. I was reveling in the memories you were evoking and then to my happy surprise discovered that you were making a note about me and my current project. Thanks so much: you’re a dear to mention me.
    I think there may be a kind of history antecedent to what you write: my memory is that Dad had a penny box into which he tossed his loose change. After his death Mom kept replenishing it – as you say – and so it seemed as if “Daddy’s pennies” never ran out – and I was all too ready to accept this as true! John

  3. I loved this! What a beautiful, sweet memory. Thank you so much for sharing Jinni with us. And for introducing your amazing family. It’s inspiring to hear of those who have turned such difficult circumstances around and not only survive, but thrive. I’ll be thinking of Daddy’s Penny Box for some time to come!

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