I turned around
to find Grandpa staring at me. “Would you like to know the story behind that
coin?” he asked. I nodded wordlessly, my face still red from the embarrassment
of being caught looking at something private. He gingerly picked up the box and
motioned that I should follow. He sat me down by the dining room table and put
the box between the two of us. Carefully he slid off the glass lid, gently
picked up the coin, cleared his throat and began to speak.
“It was a dreary
day and the chill seemed to creep into our very bones. The rain had stopped the
previous morning, but the remaining fog swallowed the sun and didn’t allow the
mud to dry. We were chasing the
Confederate forces west from our last skirmish at Five Forks when Lieutenant
Crowley informed us that our regiment would be separating from the rest of the
Union’s forces with hopes of trapping the rebs at a town called Appomattox. The
next day and a half was torturous; we had to march doubly fast and our uniforms
were as clean as mud. When we arrived at Appomattox we spent the rest of the
day strategically concealing our cannons and preparing for battle. At dawn the
next day the first rebel scouts were spotted. Shortly thereafter, we started
firing at the stunned rebs. By midday a vicious battle ensued. Through the
smoke of gunfire and the sound of men screaming, I felt a sharp pain in the
left side of my chest. The world went black.
“I woke up to
find a young nurse leaning her concerned face over my bed. She informed me that
the bullet wound was shallow and the doctor had managed to save me. If the
bullet had gone another inch deeper though, it would have penetrated my heart.
She then picked up the 1849 dollar I had in my breast pocket. The coin now had
a large hole straight through the bottom of Liberty and her shield.”
completed the story he let me hold the coin, albeit carefully. I put my little
finger through the hole imagining the bullet that punctured the silver. I handed the coin back to Grandpa who put it
in the box and slid the lid back on. We stood up and walked out of the dining
room, he went to put the coin back in its drawer and I went home to our corner
house three blocks away.
became preoccupied with my daily life and forgot all about the coin until one
day about three years later in 1932 Grandpa died. One morning he just didn’t
wake up. In his will he left me the contents of the top drawer of his desk. The
next day I went downstairs to his study (due to the depression we had to sell
our house and move in with Grandpa who’d saved enough money to avoid selling
his own home) and opened the top drawer. Inside was the plain wooden box with
the removable glass lid. I looked inside and saw the 1849 dollar with the hole
through the lower half of Liberty and her shield, next to the dollar was a
small round bullet. I picked up the bullet and inserted it into the hole in the
dollar, it was a perfect fit.
passed, and on December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor was bombed. Early in 1942 I got my
draft notice, and among the items I brought to the army was the 1849 dollar. I
thought of how it saved Grandpa all those years before and hoped it would serve
as a good omen for me as well. In
November of 1942 I got deported to Oran to help the British defeat Rommel in
Africa, after which we went up to Italy through Tunisia. I had a couple of
close calls such as the time when I was on a mission with eleven other men and
they all got killed while I emerged unscathed. Or the time when we were running
under heavy enemy fire and I tripped over a rock and fell. That night when I
removed my helmet I saw a bullet had struck where my head had been not a moment
before. I do not know why I remained
unscathed while my battalion was destroyed, or why I tripped at that moment and
the bullet struck my helmet, but in both those instances I was carrying the
1849 dollar in my pocket.
As the years go by I often consider getting the coin encapsulated by a third party grading service, but I refrain from doing so because I don’t know if grading services except damaged coins, and it somehow ruins the legacy of the coin to have it encased in plastic. So I will retain the coin in its wooden box until I bequeath it to a grandchild of my own.