1968 – Bronx, New York. A group of neighborhood kids, boys and girls, are hanging out by the tracks of the New York Central railroad on a hot summer day. These are the Harlem Division tracks that ran past French Charlie’s, a ball field in Bronx Park. One crazy 14 year-old boy is on the tracks laying down a penny.
Someone screams, “TRAIN!”
He flies off the track as a big old Boxcab locomotive, with like a million wheels, is bearing down at 60 mph. The front wheels hit the penny and it goes flying. After dozens of wheels of the 12 car train polished the rails, he returned to the track, the wood ties smelling of creosote, to look through the ballast rock for the far flung coin.
When he found it, it had been flattened into an oval and was so hot that he had to keep bouncing it in his palm. On the face of the rail head was the ghosted impression of Lincoln that had been pressed into the steel with hundreds of tons of force. He retrieved the coin and presented it to the prettiest girl on the block, who watched the whole thing from trackside.
Of course, back then doing stupid stuff was a way to try an impress girls. A time when just holding hands could send you to the moon. The boy got a smile for his penny from the pretty girl. And life went on…
On, and on. Years and years, decades and decades. Births, deaths, jobs, marriages, divorces, homes in Hamptons, war and peace, World Series, Super Bowls, the Millennium, 911, iPhones, Justin Bieber…
All that became yesterday as the simple, quiet appreciation of a beautiful day as a gift from God became the most cherished event. Now, graying hair, post middle-aged spread clad in relaxed fit clothing, now looks back at the boy from the mirror.
One day a card appeared in the mailbox. From Virginia. ??? The handwriting on the envelope was classic, catholic school cursive, (a nearly lost art these days) Inside there was a card. The sentiment on the front was “A great friend is a guy who knew you when…” and completing the thought inside; “…and likes you anyway.”
Taped to the card was the penny.
The prettiest girl in the neighborhood, now a beautiful and proud grandmother, saved the coin for 50 years!
The little boy reading the card, smiled and and couldn’t help choking up a bit.