Grief does some crazy, silly, stupid things. Or it drives people to do crazy, silly, stupid things, I guess. Case in point: I spent last Monday night sifting through a jar of over $750 worth of those glittery $1 coins searching for one with Andrew Fucking Jackson on its face. This took easily an hour.
My uncle passed away suddenly two weekends ago. At 53 he was too young to die, but he’d lived more than forty years with Type I Diabetes and it was weighing heavily on his health. Today his suffering is over. Today, he is at rest.
In his life, Rick was a ball-breaker extraordinaire with a big mouth, an opinion on everything and a slightly incongruous compulsive collecting habit. When I returned home last Monday night, two enormous jars were sitting on the counter in my parents’ kitchen, filled with coins. One jar contained only silver colored coins and the other, larger jar was full of gold $1 coins. You know, the ones you curse about whenever an MTA machine spits a fistful of them back out at you? Yeah. Those.
After my parents went to bed that night I found myself in the kitchen alone, just staring at the jar of gold coins blankly, trying to absorb everything. I don’t know what, exactly, drove me to open it up and reach inside, but while sifting through a handful of coins, I realized the new Presidential series coins were mixed in with the more familiar Sacajaweas (and the occasional really old Susan B. Anthony). Zachary Taylor was the first President I came across and suddenly, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to get my hands on Mr. Jackson. Before I knew it, I was sitting at the computer and Google was telling me AJ had been released in 2008. In other words, I could be relatively certain he was buried somewhere in that jar.
Sifting through the jar with my new sense of purpose, I organized the coins into piles by the President (or woman) on the face. In about twenty minutes I’d found Andrew Jackson, but somehow, I still didn’t feel satisfied. Somehow, this wasn’t enough. As I’d been sorting coins I realized all of AJ’s friends and enemies were in that jar too—James Monroe (douchebag), John Quincy Adams, even Martin Van Buren. I wanted to have stacks of each. No. I needed to.
By the end of the search, when I was finally able to let myself stop, I’d sorted over $175 worth of coins into piles. I had small stacks of George Washington, Zachary Taylor, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Franklin Pierce, John Tyler, James K. Polk, William Henry Harrison, and even a single Millard Fillmore. Most importantly, though, I had 5 each of James Monroe, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Fucking Jackson, and I’d even found 3 Martin Van Burens (he was the most elusive and incidentally, the funniest looking). I kept two of each and threw the rest back into the jar.
I don’t know what—if anything—I’m going to do with these coins. My tiny New York City apartment already has way too many things inside it. I don’t even know why it was suddenly so important to me to find AJ and those doily-wearing muffin tops. But there was something soothing in it, and something innately hilarious, too. I laughed at myself, and I cleaned up my mess, and I felt better about a lot of things.
I guess, in some small way, it was a tribute to my Uncle Rick, and the things he’d collected over his lifetime, in hopes that he could leave something of value behind for his nieces and nephews when he passed away. Maybe, in keeping some of what he’d left to us—the pieces that were strangely important to me on that day in the fall of 2010—I am writing my own chapter in his legacy. Maybe someday my children or nieces and nephews or grandchildren will be sorting through a lifetime of my belongings and find—amongst the piles and piles of playbills—my collection of $1 coins and wonder why exactly I chose those 4 characters to keep in my life. Who knows. Maybe they’ll already understand.
Photo: The Craptacular