How a strange and mysterious British penny – a “lucky coin” – brought remarkable good fortune to all those it was handed to.
Maddie was sitting in a bus depot in Chicago. She was poor and down on her luck. It seemed like it had been this way since she’d left school at eighteen. She was now thirty-five and things still weren’t looking up. She was in Chicago in the hope of getting a better job – something that beat waiting tables over in Madison.
Worse still, Maddie was pretty sure she wouldn’t get the job in publishing she’d just interviewed for. She loved books and was qualified for the job having majored in English, and having written on and off for some small-time literary magazines. But it looked like the job wasn’t to be. To cap it all, the weather was lousy. It was a drizzly, dismal day. She brushed back her long blond wavy hair and looked around the depressing concrete of the bus depot – wondering grimly why nothing ever seemed to work out for her.
It was then she noticed the old guy. He was sitting a few feet away from her and was clearly waiting for a bus too. He looked quite cool in a retro sort of way, wearing a smart leather jacket and stylish black beret – kind of artistic.
The next moment he was staring right at Maddie. His eyes were piercing, but kindly looking.
Maddie quickly looked away.
But he kept on staring at her, then spoke directly to her: “Do you have faith?” he asked.
I might have guessed it, thought Maddie, a Jesus freak.
The old guy, however, was ahead of the game: “I know what you’re thinking,” he said in a slow, resonating drawl that had just a hint of the South to it. “You’re thinking I’m an evangelist.”
Maddie nodded and smiled despite herself.
“Well, I can assure you that I’m not,” he said, much to Maddie’s relief. The last thing she needed was an ear-bashing from a Jesus freak.
The old guy continued: “What I should have asked was do you have faith in yourself? Or perhaps asked whether you are even acquainted with yourself?”
“Well, I know who I am, if that’s what you mean,” said Maddie. “I know I’ve never had even one ounce of good luck since I was eighteen.”
The old guy laughed at this, much to Maddie’s annoyance. Then he said: “Well, that means you must have had eighteen years of good luck! Which isn’t bad going.”
This quip didn’t go down well with Maddie. But the old guy continued, seemingly oblivious.
“I’ll let you into a little secret,” he said. “I was the same as you at your age. Nothing I did ever seemed to work out. I tried one line of business after another. All failed. Oh, they might have started well, but they crash and burned, all the same. Then, just as I was about to give up – and very likely drink myself into an early grave – I stumbled upon my lucky coin.”
“Lucky coin?” Maddie asked, her interest now piqued.
“That’s right,” he said, staring into space for a second or two, clearly recalling some past event. Snapping out of his reverie, he went on: “It happened this way. I’d been drinking all day and was in a downtown bar, despairing at my luck and the fact that nothing ever seemed to come to anything in my life – and how even the relationships I had seemed to fail on me. So I bought another drink – a double Jack Daniels – to drown my sorrows some more. The bartender handed me my change. As I was putting it in my pocked, something strange happened. One of the coins was hot to the touch.”
The old guy said he nearly dropped it and would have called the bartender over to explain himself – ask him what the practical joke was about. But then the old guy’s curiosity got the better of him. He took a closer look at the coin and to his surprise it wasn’t an American coin at all. The other coins he’d been given in his change were U.S. currency. But not this one.
“It was a British penny, circa 1931,” said the old guy. “Wow,” said Maddie. “Maybe the bartender had been on holiday over in England?”
“Well, he might have,” said the old guy. “But these pennies went out of circulation in Britain when the country went decimal in the late 1960s. So unless he bought the coin in a collector’s shop, he’d have been unlikely to have come home with an old British penny.”
The old guy cleared his throat, then continued his narrative. “Rather than yell at the bartender about giving me foreign currency in my change, I decided to keep the coin. And you know what? The very next day my luck began to change. It was little things at first. I’d win a few dollars on the lottery. Then I’d get a temporary job offer, a real good payer. Next thing, I saw an opportunity to supply women’s wigs to stores around the country. I set up warehouses and distribution, and within three years I found myself wealthy. This was the mid-1970s.”
Romance also came his way. “Just as my business interests began to take off, I met the woman of my dreams – quite literally. We fell for each other, got married and had kids. There was no doubt about it. My life had turned on its head within a short few years – ever since finding my lucky penny.”
“Amazing,” said Maddie. “But how can you be sure it was the coin? Maybe it was just coincidence?”
“Perhaps,” said the old guy. “But that coin kept getting hot every so often. And every time it did, my luck got even better. Take it from me, there was something about that coin – something uncanny.”
The old guy foraged in his jacket pocket for a moment, then pulled out a coin. “This is my lucky coin,” he said.
“Oh my god,” said Maddie. “It just looks ordinary, well sort of old, but you know, I almost expected it to be made of solid gold!”
“It might look old and worn,” said the old guy, “but for me it has been as good as solid gold…it brought me wealth and success and a beautiful wife and children. What more could I have asked for in life? No, for me, this coin is worth all the gold in Fort Knox.”
He then looked at Maddie. “And now I want to pass it on to you.” Maddie looked on in astonishment. “Give it to me!? I couldn’t,” she said. “It’s your lucky coin.”
The old guy shook his head. “No, no, it has to be passed on when it’s done its work. And besides, you can pass it on too when the time comes.”
So Maddie graciously accepted the gift of the lucky coin. Then the conversation turned to more mundane things – how the weather didn’t look like it was going to improve anytime soon.
About twenty minutes later Maddie’s bus arrived. She thanked the old guy again and climbed aboard the bus.
When she looked back to wave goodbye to the old guy, but he was nowhere to be seen.
Must’ve gone to catch his own bus, thought Maddie, but how could he have moved so quickly? Even someone in their thirties or younger couldn’t disappear out of sight that fast.
In the end, she filed it away in her mind as “odd” and took her seat on the bus.
A little later she remembered the coin and took it out of her pocket to have a look at it. It was hot…
I got to know Maddie in 1997 through a good friend of mine who lives in Illinois. During one discussion, she told me that her luck had changed in an instant after meeting the old guy and being given the coin.
“What was so unbelievable about it was things started to change within minutes of me receiving the coin – literally while I was still on the bus home to Madison,” Maddie told me. “I got talking to a cute looking guy, about my age, who said he always took the bus to save money as he was starting up a mail order firm selling self-help books. I said, ‘Wow, I just interviewed for a job in publishing.’ He said, ‘You did? How’d you like to help me out? I’ve been looking for someone to assist with the admin side and packaging.’”
Maddie jumped at the chance. Books where her field of expertize and her passion and joy. It was ideal. For once in her life, it seemed she’d fallen on her feet.
“It turned out great. The business took off and I ended up being a partner in the firm,” Maddie said. “But the guy and me really hit it off on a personal level too…the long and the short of it being we fell in love. Eventually, we got married and had a couple of kids. And unlike a lot of people these days, we’re still together and are very happy.”
I remember saying to Maddie: “You really think all that was down to the lucky penny?”
“I know it was,” she replied.
“But how can a coin – even an old one – do all that?” I asked.
Maddie learned back in the wooden chair she was sitting on, and put her feet up on a freshly sawed log close by.
“I’ll explain,” she said. “The coin is a kind of mascot, a genuine lucky charm, that connects you to your inner-most self, to your genius inside, which you were born with.”
“Do you mean your subconscious mind?” I asked.
“Sort of,” she answered. “But it’s more than that. It’s your true-self. You come into the world in direct contact with it. You are it, and it is you. But as you grow into childhood and become a teenager, you begin to lose touch with that side of yourself. This is more true than ever nowadays, what with the cult of celebrity, TVs, and computers everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with those things in themselves…it’s just that we allow them to take us away from ourselves. They’re monumental distractions that remove us from our true selves. This is almost always to our detriment, one way and another. BUT GET BACK IN TOUCH WITH YOUR TRUE SELF, AND EVERYTHING CHANGES. I’m not saying it will make everyone wealthy or bring them the partner of their dreams. What it does do is put you on the right path in life – your path. That way, you flow with the river instead of against it. You ride with your fate instead of fight it. When you are able to do that, you are truly fulfilled in life, and things always fall into place.”
Maddie and I had this conversation in 1997 – before I’d had any book deals and when things weren’t exactly looking up for me. In short, I was gunning down a long highway to nowhere. Although I hadn’t said any of this in so many words, Maddie must have sensed my situation.
She looked straight at me and smiled: “You should have the coin,” she said.
She then reached into her pocked and pulled out an old and worn copper penny, and handed it to me.
“I can’t take this…” I said, handing it back to her.
She held up her hand. “No, it is yours now. The coin has to be handed on when it has done its work. That’s what the old guy said. And that’s what I’m doing.”
Overwhelmed, I stumbled out an inadequate “thank you.” Then held the lucky coin in my hand.
It felt hot to the touch…