When I was little, we used to sing a song during the holidays about giving a penny to those in need
Christmas is coming
The goose is getting fat
Please put a penny in the old man’s hat
If you have no penny
A half-penny will do
If you have no half-penny then
God bless YOU
Even to our juvenile minds in the 1970s, the value of a penny seemed so insignificant that the fat goose was more of the focus of our musical curiosity (goose was not a traditional holiday meal in our family)
Like many people over the past year, we’ve become penny-pinchers. Supporting a farm and trying to launch a new business within the worst recession in almost 100 years has been both challenging and stressful.
Despite our own concerns about whether the mortgage on the farm would be paid and how much heating the house would cost this winter, our mission to support as many local craftsmen and artists as we could remained steadfast.
We had long-admired the work of our neighbor Michael Whaling. He has a photographic memory for every fallen tree branch and every over-turned stone for what seems like a 100 mile radius of Schoharie County. More amazingly, he uses them to fabricate incredible works of art.
Although we were not in the position to commission any masterpieces, we did want to bring Michael’s talents to Beekman Farm and enlisted his help in building an authentically-crafted rock wall around what has become our heirloom vegetable garden. We worked out a payment plan, and as we could scrape together extra money, we would hand it over to Michael. He would write us receipts on scraps of paper.
One day recently, I heard someone pull the string that rings the old doorbell at the side door of the house.
I was surprised to see Michael standing on the porch. It was a cold, rainy day, not conducive to continuing work on the wall.
“I have something I want to give to you,” he said.
“Ok”, I responded. Thinking it was an invoice for the work he had completed over the last several weeks.
“Many years ago, I was standing in the area of what would eventually become the town library. I was kicking around the dirt with the toe of my boot when I saw what I thought was an odd green stone. When I bent over to pick it up, I realized that it was a penny. After I cleaned it off, I saw the date, ‘1819’.
He placed the penny in my hand.
“You have done so much for me and the Sharon Springs community over the last year, that I wanted you to have this. It’s very likely that this penny passed through William Beekman’s own hands as he was standing behind the counter of his mercantile.”
With that he said, “I’ll be back to work on the wall on the next sunny day”. He hopped in his red truck , his ever-patient dog next to him on the seat, and drove away.
I walked back into the house rubbing the smooth, shiny surface of the large piece of copper resting in the palm of my hand. I think I may have even cried a little bit.
His simple gesture came with a lesson. No matter the difficulties facing us all currently, in addition to counting pennies we must still make the time to count our blessings.
Of which there are many.