This morning, I took a heavy vase of change to my local bank and dumped it into one of those change machines. I love those machines! I don’t care if they take 80 percent. It’s just so darn convenient and fun. Each machine has its own personality. The machine I used this morning, Penny Arcade, is a cute little redheaded animated cartoon. She was so sweet until I shut her down.

I didn’t start at the beginning of the change dumping process because that’s not my way. I didn’t read her very clear text bubble directions. I just walked up and dumped my change into her slot. She kept trying to tell me what to do, but I figured how hard could this be? See the tray, dump the change and wait for the slip. I guessed I had about 50 bucks. I told Penny we were using our change to go on a family vacation in September.

My daughter and I have a tradition that we started during the 2008 recession. We pay for all of her dad’s Christmas and birthday gifts with change. It was so fun during the first recession that we’ve continued the tradition right into the improved economy. The best part of the tradition is that, legally, the change belongs to him. He pays for his own presents. We don’t steal the change, we just claim the unclaimed property from the floor, the couch, the stairs and the car. It adds up.

My husband is a world-class hoarder; convinced that he will be audited, he has saved every restaurant, supermarket and gas station receipt that he has ever received. I tell him the first step to recovery is accepting that he has a problem. He carries around 2 to 3 pounds of change and receipts in his pockets every day, carefully moving the wad of paper and change from one pants pocket to the next with each new morning. I’ve stopped asking why.

During the 2008 recession I lived entirely off his change. I paid for my morning coffee and lunch with his quarters, dimes and nickels. When I had used all the quarters, dimes and nickels from the top of his bureau, leaving behind a lonely pile of pennies, I took a break and waited for the silver to return.

The year 2008 was about the time change machines started appearing in supermarkets. My daughter was in middle school that year. My mere existence destroyed her cred. Asking her to walk into a store with a plastic Hannaford’s bag full of change — with me — was like marching her down a gang-plank. But, it was Christmas and her presents depended upon her presence. I let her carry the plastic bag full of change thinking it would be more fun if she made the magic happen. She accidently dumped the entire bag of change on the floor in the middle of the aisle with dozens of happy shoppers watching. I stepped back, pretended I didn’t know her, and said, “Bad luck.”

I think we made about $70 that day. We took our paper cash and went shopping at the local gourmet kitchen boutique to buy her dad (our chef) more cooking gadgets. We eat real meals because of him. If he’s away, we eat Chinese, pizza, Thai takeout or, if we have enough change, we walk down to the Great Lost Bear where the beer is cold, the chicken sticks are gold and they serve Coke instead of Pepsi. We ask for nothing more.

I was too much for Miss Penny Arcade this morning. My load of change shut her down. Her text bubble told me to call for help. I yelled across the empty bank lobby, “Penny says, I need help.” The young bank teller in smart slacks walked over, unlocked the front of the machine and said, “Penny, you always do this.”

Miss Penny Arcade wanted me to tell you that she doesn’t keep 80 percent, just 8.5 percent and if you take the time to follow her sweet text bubble directions, she will reward you with a paper receipt and directions to the counter, where the bank teller in smart slacks will give you paper cash.

Jolene McGowan lives and works in Portland with her husband, daughter and dog and has no plans to leave, ever. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]


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