This past October, I traveled to Canada for the first time in fifteen years. I was visiting my friend, Debbie, my penpal from the 1980’s (the time before email and social media replaced pen and paper.) Back then, FB meant Friendship Book, not Facebook.
Debbie and I first met in person in 1987 and made a point of traveling together once a year. The frequency slowed eventually as increasing obligations like being homeowners became higher priorities.
Since our last visit fifteen years ago, I have eagerly collected stray Canadian pennies that occasionally made their way to me and kept them in a special coin purse. Each penny gave me a renewed promise of the day I would return the small copper discs to their homeland while visiting my friend.
By the time Debbie and I finally were able to reunite, I had thirty-six pennies, along with other Canadian coins I had come across over the years, for a grand total of five dollars and thirty-six cents. Silly as it sounds, I felt like I would be doing a service returning those coins to where they rightfully belonged, with the added bonus of spending a long weekend with my friend of course.
It was while shopping that afternoon in Niagara Falls that my world was turned upside down by a store checkout clerk. As I proudly handed over the exact change for my purchase, the clerk said, “We don’t accept pennies.” I looked to my friend for guidance. She nonchalantly said, “Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you, we don’t use pennies anymore.”
I’ve been to Canada enough times that I no longer consider it a foreign country, although technically it is. But that day, it felt foreign. I had excitedly transported these pennies back to their homeland and now they were rejected like misfit toys. Thus was my introduction to this new world order in a country without pennies, where cash purchases were rounded up or down to the nearest five cent increment. I didn’t know what to make of this flagrant disregard for the penny.
Canada converted their one- and two-dollar paper bills into coins (the loonie and the toonie) - but eliminate the penny? Debbie explained that before this cessation became law, a massive collection was underway for about a year. Millions of the copper coins were sent off to be melted, smelted and recycled. Penny for your thoughts? Not in Canada! It was as if the penny never existed.
The conundrum of what to do with my thirty-six pennies pestered me for the rest of the weekend. Should I just throw them over the Horseshoe Falls? I couldn’t do it! For all those years each newly discovered penny represented getting me one step closer to reuniting with my friend. I had to keep them. They were the survivors who traveled from God knows how many wallets to cash registers, eventually winding up in my coin purse where they would apparently stay forever.
Crossing the border going home, unclaimed pennies resting solemnly in my purse, a uniformed border services officer asked, “You bringing anything in?”
Yeah, thirty-six pennies that were expatriated after fifteen years of being steadily accumulated and carefully stored for this very weekend! Thirty-six pennies rejected by their own country!
No, I didn’t say any of that to him, but in an act of defiance in honor of the pennies without a voice, I didn’t round up or round down the purchases I had to declare. Instead I waved my bundle of receipts at him and disclosed the total amount...to the penny.