by Newt Harlan
There are probably lots of folks who donít know what a smushed penny is. In fact, there are probably quite a few who donít know what a smushed anything is because, according to all the dictionaries that I have available, smushed ainít even a word. But all them smart people who write dictionaries just donít talk the same brand of English as I do, and smushed is a perfectly good word in my vocabulary. Smushed means something that is sort of smashed, sort of mashed, sort of just mushed down--you know, smushed.
Maybe an example will help you understand: when you stomp on a bug you smash it, when you put a board on a bug and push down, you mash it, and when you step on a bug, you smush it. Smush has quite a few more meanings, but we wonít go into them here.
A smushed penny is just a little bit different. The only way you can get a real, honest-to-God, smushed penny is to put a regular penny on a railroad track and have a train run over it. When the train passes over it, youíll have a penny a little thicker than aluminum foil and about the diameter of a half dollar, but you can still see the Lincoln head and markings on the front and back.
Now Iím sure that a smushed penny doesnít sound like it would be too valuable to most of you, but back in my elementary school days it was a very highly prized commodity. A regular penny, even back then, had a minimal value, but a smushed penny could be bartered for any number of prized objects and valuable services. At different times I traded a smushed penny for a two-bladed pocketknife, 14 cat-eye and 2 genuine agate marbles (which I promptly lost playing ďfor keepsĒ), a purple baseball cap with a Humble Wildcats logo, and for a smushed penny made into a necklace, the prettiest girl in the fifth grade agreed to be my girlfriend for a month.
In order to understand why a smushed penny had such high value back then, youíll need to know just a little history: Humble Elementary opened in 1949 as a brand new, state-of-the-art school with all the modern educational tools and latest architectural designs. The only problem was that the playground behind the school was directly adjacent to a railroad track and there was no fence between the playground and the track.
Truthfully, I didnít do my pennies around the school. Iíd save up and gather up and con my sisters until I had 10 or 15 pennies and then Iíd go through the woods behind my house to the railroad tracks and put them on the tracks there. After the train passed, Iíd usually be able to find about half of them worth keeping. The rush of the train passing either blew the rest away or they didnít smush good for one reason or another, but the 6 or 8 I wound up with made me a hero around school for the next several days.
I suppose youíre thinking that if smushed pennies were so valuable, why not smushed nickels, dimes or quarters? The simple answer is that we rarely ever even saw nickels, dimes or quarters -- and when we did, we had much better uses to put them to other than smushing them.
Werenít things simple and fun back when we were kids? Sometimes I think Iíd like to go there again. Maybe Iíll go put a penny on the railroad track -- do you reckon theyíd arrest me or maybe haul me off to the asylum?
Newt writes: "I was born, raised and educated in Texas. With the exception of the 4 years during the Vietnam Era that I spent riding around on airplanes, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force, I've lived the almost 64 years of my life in the same town where I grew up. I managed to cram a four year college degree into nine years and by virtue of that feat, I am a former student of six different schools (sure helps the odds of rooting for a sports winner), winding up with a degree from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. I'm married for 30-something years and have beaucoup kids and grandkids. My hobbies, in no particular order, include writing, grandkids, hunting, fishing and visiting the local watering hole to swap honest lies and research material for stories. I'm now semi-retired, having spent the past 35 years travelling around Texas, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast areas of Mississippi and Alabama trying to sell steel products."
Want to read more of Newtís stories at USADEEPSOUTH? Click these links:
Olí Red and the Armadillo
Telephones and memories
Tastes like chicken
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