I scrambled to claim it for ourselves, but my older brother, Chris, took
it over, staking ownership by decorating it with the stickers he’d got-
ten from the vending machine at the movie theater: Freak. Big Attitude.
And, of course, the way he often did with my younger brother, Jonny,
and me, proclaiming proudly, “This is mine; don’t fucking touch it.”
We scrambled for control over other territory, too: the corner of the
bedroom, the coal cellar with a lock, the blow-in-insulation-covered
wasteland that was our attic. But the Summit Street house was the first
place we’d lived where we had both an attic and a basement. There was
diplomacy in the sheer size of the place. We had enough space to our-
selves to find our own stuff, our own places to demand that people stay
away from. And one day, just before my eighth birthday, I found some-
thing in the attic to claim for myself: a half-filled collector’s book of Lin-
coln cents. It was pale blue with crumbling cardboard corners. Inside,
there were already coins blinking from the pages, ranging between 1941
“We can sell them,” I told my mom. She was big on making money.
She wrote poetry and songs and was always talking about getting discovered and making millions and what she’d do with all that money. I
appealed to that.
At the hobby shop on Lincoln Way, she pushed my treasure across
the counter. “We found them,” she told the owner, this slinky-looking
old man with tiny glasses. “Buried in the attic of our house.” She kept
saying “we,” though it was I who had found the coins, which was frustrating. I wanted to speak up, explain to the owner that—of course—I
would be the one receiving any payment. But before I could, he slid the
“You got about a buck’s worth, kid. Want the money or the book?”
I chose the book.
On the way home, Mom walked slowly behind, as if more disappointed than I was. I kept fast-walking ahead and having to wait at the
corners for her to catch up. Even disappointed, I still felt the excitement
of filling the thing, adding to its value, stuffing a coin per year in every precut slot. It was—along with my lucky, quarter-machine rabbit’s
foot, my tin-toy Rusty Wallace car, and a yellow marble I’d found by the
Monongahela—one of only a few items I kept in a shoebox by my bed.
A box of worthless treasure that I was determined to make valuable,
despite Mom’s moping.