I GREW UP IN THE 1950s in Medford and spent many hours walking back and forth to the park near my house, my eyes trained on the ground. Back then, it was a big deal to find a penny on the sidewalk — it could buy an entire stick of licorice at the corner store. You wouldn’t dream of not taking a second to stop and pick up a penny.
I tended to frequent a store across from Hickey Park. It was famous for offering the best 5-cent cup of homemade lemon slush on the planet, but I usually visited for the cheaper stuff. Ensconced in the gleaming glass case was a vast array of penny candy: licorice, peel-off candy buttons, Squirrel Nut chews, jawbreakers. I ate them all, and it’s a small wonder that now, at 67, I still have any teeth left.
Those days are long gone. The penny candy under glass went the way of the Mom-and-Pop variety stores, and it occurred to me that hardly anyone will stoop down to pick up errant pennies anymore, either. But finding a shiny coin on the sidewalk still gives me a great sense of glee.
I’m now retired from my job driving for the MBTA, which I started in 1967 at the age of 22. All those years on the road gave me a deep appreciation for the neighborhoods of the city of Boston, so with my free time I now explore them by foot.
I usually walk two or three hours every day, scanning the ground all the while. I love to follow the East Boston Greenway from Piers Park to Bremen Street Park, for instance, including a mandatory stop on Chelsea Street for Santarpio’s Pizza (where the interior still looks like the 1950s of my childhood).
I also enjoy walking Newbury Street, where on July 14, 2011 — Bastille Day — I found 14 cents. It seemed like a good omen.
From that day on, I decided, I would keep a log of all the change I found while walking for a full year. When I got home, I’d drop my change in one of 12 foam cups I’d marked with the months of the year, then record my haul on a desk calendar.
I recently looked back over my year of record keeping, and here’s what I learned:
Out of the 366 days — 2012 was a leap year, after all — there were 138 when I didn’t find anything.
January is a tough month for a walker, with all the snowbanks to scale and ice to avoid. It was my worst month. I found just 60 cents.
On the other hand, September was my best month — I picked up $3.44 in pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. My guess is that most of it came from college students new to town and still flush with cash from Mom and Dad.
It turns out that the best day of the week to find coins is Monday. I have no idea why that is.
The best place to find coins is just outside convenience stores. Maybe because everyone comes out of them in such a hurry.
I found paper money only once. It was a crumpled one dollar bill on Causeway Street on a blustery day in March.
When my quest ended on July 13, 2012, I calculated the grand total: $17.62. I suppose you could say it wasn’t much, but it felt like a king’s ransom to me.
Later that day, I deposited $16.63 in a Jimmy Fund box outside Fenway Park. I wanted to honor a childhood friend who used to walk with me and is now battling cancer. I hope the money somehow helps.
With the other 99 cents, I stopped in a convenience store and rewarded myself with a Milky Way.
Eating it, I felt like a kid again.
John L. McCune lives in Lexington. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.