FROM THE DIRECTOR | Mark Wallace Maguire
My father, Jack, is a kind and brilliant man and I love and respect him deeply.
My father, Jack, is also a unique and, occasionally, offbeat man, and I still love and respect him deeply. I also use his weirdness as an excuse for my own odd tendencies and atypical perspectives on this life and world in which we live.
One of my favorite examples that defines his personality took place in 1982 when he decided to bless, or rather, confuse, the children in our neighborhood on Halloween.
He did not jump out of bushes to scare unsuspecting trick or treaters. He did not answer the door dressed as a wizard and speak in a ghoulish voice. He did not blast “Monster Mash” or songs by The Doors from hidden speakers in the yard.
Instead, he gave out the most unique treats I have ever beholden on Halloween.
The summer before that Halloween he had spent nearly a month in Australia as a missionary. (That in itself is another story for another column, or perhaps described better with a Coca Cola on a front porch.) He returned from the land Down Under laden with — among other things — sermon illustrations, intriguing anecdotes, a kangaroo skin, boomerangs and a tremendous amount of Australian pennies.
Before I proceed, you have to remember this was 1982, before anything resembling the Internet was available to the public and when currency from another nation still had an allure for some collectors or curious schoolboys.
But back to the pennies. When I wrote a tremendous amount of pennies, I mean tremendous. He gave many to my brother and me, some to friends and church members. And the rest sat filling an empty coffee can that was stored on a shelf in the hall closet.
I didn’t give much thought as to what he would do with them. The can became as much a part of that closet as heavy winter coats, scarves and bumbershoots.
Then Halloween arrived. Being only nine or so, I don’t recall all the details, but I do remember a conversation between my parents that went something like this:
“Jack, you don’t mean it. Pennies? For trick or treat?”
“Honey, they aren’t just pennies. These are pennies from Australia. This is a great treat to give out. I would’ve loved it as a boy.”
My mom eventually acquiesced, only insisting that a piece of candy be given along with one of the pennies. I did not trick or treat that evening being ‘too old,’ but did make sure I got a seat near the front door where in between feigning reading I could listen to the reactions of the Australian penny experiment.
“And here you go, pennies from Australia,” my dad would say as if he was a collector parsing out rare treasures or some benign Rev. Indiana Jones.
“No, not just pennies. These are from Australia. And, oh yeah, here is some candy too.”
Maybe he would get a muttered thank you or complete silence before the trick or treaters disappeared back into the shadows.
You guessed it. My mom was right. My dad has a great heart, but failed to realize his enthusiasm for Australian pennies didn’t quite translate to the average American pre-teen. I can’t recall one trick or treater ever being happy or amazed to get an Australian penny. My dad, always the good sport, laughed at himself that night and the Australian penny legend has only grown through the years in its absurdity.
As for the pennies and the coffee can?
They were basically forgotten until this year, when I — in some moment of nostalgic clarity — called my parents and asked what happened to them. My dad had no idea. My mom — bless her heart — actually took time to search for them and found them stuffed in the attic. During the holidays she brought them over and bestowed them to me.
What have I done with this strange inheritance?
I bury the pennies in the yard with other treasures such as canned food or colored pencils. Then I provide my sons’ friends with treasure maps to discover the ‘old pirate treasure.’ The kids actually love it. Money from Australia! Hidden treasure! How did it get here? Their exclamations make me quite happy and, if I betray the secret with a smile, I don’t mind.
I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder. When you expect candy and get copper, it can be disappointing, but when you suspect red clay clods and get treasure, well that’s a victory.
I will spare you from turning that sentence into a sermon. But I will let you know I will not be passing out any Australian pennies to trick or treaters this year. Instead the now-tarnishing treasures will be relegated to closets and treasure hunting.
Whatever treats you give or get this year, have a Happy Halloween.