Opinion: My long-lost Mercury dime

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Commentary by Ward Degler

I just found a 1941 Mercury head dime. No big deal, really, since old coins often show up in change.

Except this one recalled a special memory for me. The year was 1941, it was the middle of December, and my 6-year-old roots had recently been shaken to the core.

A few days earlier, Dec. 7, Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor and America was suddenly at war. I didn’t know what that meant except I expected enemy soldiers to come marching up our road in the North Woods of Wisconsin at any moment.

Worse, my dad had a commission in the U.S. Army and had just been called up to get his physical. My mom cried a lot over the next few days, and I fretted and stewed. I think I offered a few pretty mixed up prayers as only a frightened first grader might do.

Then, magically, a soft wave of peace rolled over our little home. Dad’s ulcers kept him out of the service, and the Japanese Army never reached our shores, much less the snowy woods of Wisconsin.

And I lost a tooth. It was one I had been wiggling around with my tongue for several days. Then, it suddenly popped out.

That night I put the tooth under my pillow, and in the morning found it replaced by a shiny new dime — a real treasure for a kid who had launched into life in the middle of the Great Depression. Even a dime was a lot of money in those days.

That same morning, while I was sitting at the breakfast table eating oatmeal with one hand and clutching my dime with the other, my dad walked through the door with a six-foot Norway spruce he had cut just a hundred yards from our back door – our Christmas tree.

Somehow, it didn’t matter that all our Christmas decorations had been packed and shipped away in anticipation of dad’s entry into the war. We strung popcorn and cranberries into long ropes and looped them through the branches. I cut and glued strips of colored paper into chains. Mom made decorations out of buttons from her sewing basket, and dad took the tinfoil wrapper from a pack of cigarettes and fashioned a star for the top.

Our home was safe, the tree was decorated for Christmas, and I had a dime to call my own. We even sang Christmas carols. I didn’t know the words, and dad sang so far off key that the melody was lost. Mom thought it was funny.

Somehow, I lost that dime. One day it just wasn’t there, and I never found it. Until today.


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