Just one little penny
When I was a youngster, back in the dark ages, you could buy a piece of candy for a penny. And it was really great candy, too. My son Doug reminded me of this the other day when he talked about his own childhood candy memories growing up.
In my time, we had what were known as tobacco-candy stores on just about every other corner in Philadelphia. One side of the store was for tobacco — shame on us, but heck we didn’t know the problems tobacco could cause — and the other side of the store held cases with more of an assortment of penny candy than you could possibly imagine.
My favorite was the vanilla fudge, a large piece with the bottom half-filled with coconut. Another was a butterscotch patty covered with a thin coat of bitter chocolate. But never forgotten are those tiny wax bottles filled with a sugary liquid or the paper strips dotted with candy confections of different colors. Today, we almost give away pennies. Find one on the street and you say, “Look, I found a penny. That’s good luck.”
Well a penny wasn’t good luck for a woman I knew some 40 years ago. A penny was her undoing and rightly so. Let me explain. My husband Van worked as a warehouseman for a wholesale appliance distributor. Two young men ran the business they’d inherited it from their fathers. It’d been thrust upon them unexpectedly and things just didn’t seem to be working out..
Van often heard them say that the profits just didn’t seem to add up to what they should, and they were worried. It was a small business with only four other employees; a male bookkeeper, his female assistant who handled most of the everyday business at the front desk, a salesman and one older gentleman who did the ordering. The bookkeeper’s assistant was what we old folks would calla rather “uppity” sort of person.
She wore an assortment of beautiful wigs — remember, ladies, when wigs suddenly appeared fashionable in the 70s? Well that’s what this woman had, a lot of very fashionable wigs. She was a blond one day, and a brunette the next. Then suddenly out Miss Uppity came driving to work in a brand new car that had to have cost a great deal of money.
Van came home from work that same day, saying he wondered how this young woman could possibly afford that new car and those, which were back then, very expensive wigs. This was especially true since her husband had a serious heart ailment and could not work. Our Miss Uppity held off having her serious operation, never wanting to take the time away from work, but finally the doctor told her she would wait no longer.
The business owners hired a temp to do her job while she was gone. The new temp was a very nice woman who liked doing a good job. On the very first day she was there, while checking the previous day’s receipts, she found a single penny error. What else to do but find the error? She went back, receipt by receipt, checking them against the ledger for the previous day, finding a $20.01 error.
She then checked the day before that and found a $50.01 error. It continued until she found that, week by week, the errors amounted to odd amounts between $100 and $300, a very good amount of money in the 70s. Our little Miss Uppity had been marking cash payments for the customers on their ledgers, but pocketing the cash into her pocket and not marking the correct amount on the daily record.
How lucky could one business get! If that temp hadn’t found that penny error, Miss Uppity may have gone on doing her little thing for a very long time. It was figured that over the previous seven years of her employment she had stolen more than $65,000. The law, at that time did now allow for going further back, and she had been employed for over 10 years.
Of course, our Miss Uppity lost her job. Instead of driving her nice new fancy car, her head covered with one of her expensive wigs, our Miss Uppity went to jail. Also, one very nice thing happened. Because of all of this two things happened. This honest temp got a permanent job, and the business went on to survive. And all because of a single, tiny, copper penny.
Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer and columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org