Change Jars

BY EMILY LOUISE

I grew up in a home that was filled with change. Coins. Maybe it was because my parents had terrible credit and constantly carried cash earned by my mother’s meager salary as a manager at The Gap. Or maybe it’s just called Gap. My father made little more than his monthly payment for school, and my sisters and I swallowed money faster than they could count it. Change. It stacked in neat little piles around the entryways, on top of bedroom dressers, under the shelf in the laundry room. It collected like water in the cup holders of our cars, and spilled across the kitchen counter at the end of each day.

The biggest stash was found in my father’s office – the education capitol of three-bedroom home. The dark walls were lined with tall bookcases, filled with stories and treasures my dad had bothered to save in his modest 35 years of life. He collected things. Gathered. In the center of the back wall, directly behind my father’s desk, the large vase sat atop the shelves. The large, glass vessel, which alone was not all that impressive, shimmered and blinked now with flashes of silver and copper, displaying the change we had heaped and saved. Change. Once a week or so my father sent us out, three sisters and three soldiers for his cause. We were armed with clear plastic cups, the same ones my parents drank cheap red wine from in the evenings, and gargled Listerine from in the mornings.

“Collect the change,” my father would commission us, and we’d burst off, twisters in search of our targets. We rummaged under the once-tidy couch cushions, tearing the living room apart. Stacks of clean clothes left on the stairs were picked at and toppled over, and stripped for spare dimes. Nightstands were shaken and lamps were knocked over, and my mother would just watch. She’d watch as we defiled her neatly tucked bedspreads, dug in the back of her well-kept closets, and then came running by with giant grins on our faces. She’d smile, too, as we’d run around in character. Until – a thump so loud and a clatter to follow that would only mean one thing. I had tripped, and the coins I had worked so hard to collect, would form a sea of tin circles so wide I’d surely be swallowed. But my mother would pick me and my treasures up, put us in

our proper places, and send us out again. One scraped knee, two wet eyes, and three little soldiers.

And as she watched, my mother would stand and watch, looking nostalgic and smitten, and lost. Once, just once, she’d like to have flowers in her vase again, rather than coins. That was the promise the vase held to her. Someday, it would be nice to have flowers in that old vase.

I was little, but I know the vase treasure was repeatedly used for emergencies, not extravagancies. When Dad brought home that puppy that we couldn’t afford, Mom grabbed the step stool and cashed in the coins herself. When our oldest soldier learned drive, the change was regularly put towards extra gas money, and when I fell and split open my chin in the bathtub, I swear I saw my Dad glance at the vase before rushing me to the hospital.

But I, in my childish wonder, dream of better ways to spend the vase money now. Could we have gone to Disneyworld finally? Could my mom have driven a Mercedes? Probably not, but maybe a car that always ran. Or maybe just once, there would have been flowers.

Now, I’m sooner 25 than 5 and as I approach the stage of desperate coin collection, I am reminded of something. Change. I think rather than saving my vase for emergencies, living in expectation of difficult times, I think I’ll spend mine on my dreams.

Change. Sometimes it makes ends meet. Sometimes it just pays for flowers.

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