Helen Lewis and Michelle Vanstrom

By Helen Lewis


Old Money
By Michelle Vanstrom

Inspiration piece 

When I bought the old

coins my mother collected

I always thought I’d give them

back. She called it

collateral for the mortgage

money, or else she wouldn’t

ask and she refused a coin

collector’s large offer

because, she promised, one

day she would buy them

back. I followed her into the bedroom

where she kept them

buried in the floor’s cold

air return inside an ancient suitcase

with broken gold clasps. She placed her eighteen-year

collection into my arms and burdened them

with memories—us searching

for edge-worn faces, tiny minted letters stamped

on silver, D for Denver, S for San Francisco

and scanning bills, ones and fives, marked

with red ink—a trait not normally found

on George or Abraham but always imprinted on us. Small

change always found our hands,

luck discovered in a supermarket parking lot, the gas station,

or the high school cafeteria. Every Friday she bought rolled

coins instead of cigarettes, exchanged

Salems for lucky strikes. After supper

at the dining room table we sat and scrutinized, peering

through blue smoke and

dreams with a magnifying glass

for the rare discovery: bronze Indian heads,

copper wheat pennies, buffalo nickels, Mercury dimes,

Liberty walking halves, or a peace

silver dollar, pressing them into the empty

dated spaces in the green coin collection

books. I bound the blue suitcase with straw-colored masking

tape and I buried it in my storage

closet preserving her memory

and her broken gold clasp promise.



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