In the last twenty-four hours I have found four pennies on the streets. Three I kept, because I just cannot see disdaining free money even in that denomination. One I left where it was.
Because that’s how I learned to do it, that’s why.
Every neighborhood has its own rituals and beliefs, and growing up on my tiny suburban street full of children we all knew that pennies were only lucky if you found them heads-up. Those you picked up, and not only were you then one cent richer but you were also quite possibly in for some good luck. Since you could never have too much good luck, this was a win all around. But if you found one that was tails up that was another story. You could tempt fate and pick those up too if you wanted, but only the bravest and most devil-may-care of us would try that. We weren’t really a devil-may-care bunch. The ones that were tails-up we just left where they were.
But we didn’t leave them as they were.
The thing was, if you just left them alone then the next unsuspecting person either had to leave the penny there too (which was just silly – eventually somebody has to pick the thing up or it’s just a waste) or they would pick it up and get all the bad luck that came with such foolhardiness. So if you found a penny that was tails-up it was your responsibility to turn it over so that the next person would find it heads-up and gain some luck out of it. It was a way of paying things forward, really, and no, you couldn’t just go back and pick it up once you’d turned it over. Once you turned it over it wasn’t yours anymore.
I’m not sure I believe in luck anymore, at least not as it pertains to pennies on the ground. But forty years later I still flip over the tails-up pennies that I find and leave them there for the next person.
It just seems like the right thing to do.