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Thursday 13 Jun 2024

Pennies on a Rail
AJ Robinson

Recently, I saw the movie "Pollyanna," the old Disney film starring Haley Mills as a girl who always views the world as a "glass half full." Early in the movie, a scene reminded me of an event from my childhood, putting something on the railroad tracks and letting the train run over it. In this case, it was a boy putting a short length of chain.

In my case, many years ago, in Arlington, Massachusetts, my old hometown, we had some railroad tracks running through town. I never paid them much mind, but one day I was downtown with my friend, Harvey, and we heard the train whistle blow. Instantly, he sprang into action; he rooted around in his pockets and asked me if I had any change.

I had no clue what he was talking about, but I checked. I had a couple pennies and nickels and that was all. He said that was perfect and led me over to the nearby tracks. He put his coins on the rail and told me to do the same. I had no idea what the purpose of all this way, but I quickly followed suit.

Again, we heard the whistle, closer this time, and then the bells on the crossing began to ring. The gates went down, the lights flashed, and the traffic came to a stop. Harvey led me away from the tracks, and we crouched down in the grass to watch the train zipped by.

Well, it didn't exactly zip - it was kind of a slow-moving train, which was a major disappointment to me. I mean, I'd seen trains in the movies - usually westerns, except that Marx Brothers movie, but I digress - and they usually went racing across the countryside. At that tender age (all of about eight), I didn't understand that trains slowed down as they went through towns.

Anyway, the train went by we watched and waved at the engineer. Then Harvey led me back to the tracks. There, lying where we'd left them, were our coins, squashed flat. Harvey scooped his up, a gleam of pure joy in his eyes. I looked down at mine and was amazed to see them so, well, flat. Wow, that train had been heavy.

Picking up the coins, I looked at them and let them sift through my fingers from one hand to another. "So, I guess we won't be buying anything with these, huh?" I said.

Harvey said no, there was no chance any store would accept these. My brow wrinkled, then, what was the point of this? He explained that it was merely something cool to do with our coins. Frankly, I just didn't see it. In time, though, I learned to see it as something cool.

Today, I have none of those old squashed coins. Instead, my daughter collects souvenir pennies from places we visit. You may have seen these machines; you put two quarters and a penny in and turn a crank. The penny, pressed flat, has an image is stamped into it. She has over a hundred now! Huh, now, if I'd only thought of that machine when I put my pennies on the rail, think where I'd be today.

Let this be a lesson to you: great ideas can come from the most unlikely of sources.

Combining the gimlet-eye of Philip Roth with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Working, again, as an engineeer, after years out of the field due to 2009 recession and slow recovery, Robinson finds time to write. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true. His teen vampire adventure novel, "Vampire Vendetta," will publish in 2020. Robinson continues to write books, screenplays and teleplays and keeps hoping for that big break.

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