Seattle, WA
September 15, 1999

Dearest Jason,

Autumn lurks around the corners of the Olympics and the Cascades, creeping in disguised as marine fog in the night, and lying thick about the land well through the day.

Fall comes so slowly here, not like in Pennsylvania, where one hard frost paints the hills all gold and crimson in a day or two. It takes its time both coming and going, as if it likes the Northwest best of all, so it arrives early, hands summer its hat, and sticks around to make sure winter is settled in before it goes away again.

The change in weather prompted me to stay home yesterday, as if in reverence to the upcoming season. I took the chance to clean the kitchen, and nearly broke my wrist lifting the Mason jar I keep on the counter for spare change.

The weight of it surprised me, and it made me laugh when I imagined what a fortune we would have found it in the old days.

It is a strange new feeling having some money: My new job is more rewarding financially than I've even had a chance to comprehend. It's odd to know for the first time in my life that I'm not perched on the brink of economic disaster, not rolling coin to make the rent, the way we used to do back home.

I took the jar to the grocery store and dropped the contents into one of those machines that counts your coin and spits out a receipt you can take to the cashier for paper money. According to the machine, I had $63.48 in change. I made it a gift to charity.

The process got me thinking about days even older than ours, days when I spent so much time with my grandfather learning most of the stuff that gets me through my life. I remembered rainy afternoons when he would sense my boredom a moment before it arrived and reached up onto the high shelf in the living room for the metal canister where he kept the pennies.

It was always full, I swear.

In childhood, I thought my grandfather was among the richest men in the world because he always had that can full of pennies. He would spread them out in the middle of his desk, and we would go to work counting them up, two by two: my index and middle fingers trapping a penny each, then gliding them to the edge of the desk and dropping them in my catching hand.

We would count them thus, five strokes to a dime and fifty to a dollar, stack them up in rows, ten high and five deep, and Pap would shimmy them into those dull red paper wrappers, fold up the ends, and stack the finished product like firewood on the corner of the desk.

That was the work of it, what we did with the preponderance of 1955 to 1965 Lincoln heads, but the fun was in the ones we didn't roll. He taught me to look for the ones with wheat on their backs, for Canadian ones with the face of the young queen or, better still, her father. He told me legends about ones that had an Indian's head on them, but I never found one of those.

Still, those unconventional pennies were precious to me, and the thrill of finding them was not at all unlike the wonder I figured I'd experience if I found a dinosaur bone in my back yard.

When we were finished counting, I'd have a little pile, at most a dime's worth of minted excitement. I'd scoop them into my hand and close my fingers around them tightly until I gotten them back to my room, where I kept the velvet box.

Pap had given me that, too: a long, slender jewelry box covered in dark blue velvet, hinged with shiny brass, and lined with silk the color of cream. I'd pry open the lid, and slip the pennies inside to join the others I'd collected over time.

That box got pretty heavy over the years, and by the time I was past counting pennies for entertainment, I couldn't open the lid without some spilling out. It shouldn't surprise you to know that I still have that box.

I'm not counting pennies any more, but I do still count my oddities as treasures.

Consider yourself counted.

With love,


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