robertisenberg

Excavation #5: Coins

In Vermont on May 25, 2011 at 12:00 am

The Excavation series is excerpted from my MFA thesis, entitled Ruins. These short chapters deal with youthful imagination and an increasing desire to explore the world. Photograph taken in Nova Scotia hotel.

Dad opened a plastic baggie and spilled coins over the kitchen table. They clanked against the wood, formed a pool of tiny metal discs. Hundreds of coins, each a different shape and color. Some large and silver, others tiny and copper. They were grimy and old—scanning the dates, I saw that none were older than 1972, the year a heart attack struck my grandfather dead.

“These were all my father’s,” Dad said. “He collected them from all the places he went.”

The different languages delighted me. “Banque” instead of “Bank,” “Nacional” instead of “National.” The numbers were all the same, but the sums were strange—some read “2,” others “5,000.” I ran my fingers over their faces, grabbed a handful and squeezed them until they felt warm and sticky. Then I started to separate them into piles, to itemize, arrange. A few minutes later, I gave up, and I spread them into an arc—a rainbow of coinage, disordered, magnificent.

How much these coins said about their nations. What metals did they value? What denominations could they afford? And see all the faces of foreign statesmen—the profiles of important men, some living, some long dead, and who even knew who they were?

One day, I promised myself, I will have my own coin collection. And long after I’m dead, a child like me will inherit those coins. He will say to himself, Wow, grandpa went everywhere. That child will study the coins for hours, just like I’m doing, and he will try to imagine what I did, the people I met, the stories in-between.

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