Monday, December 13, 2010

The coin (or why truth is stranger than fiction)

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne




As you know we have just moved into our new home here in Australia and last week, in the shipping container that arrived from America, an antique Victorian chest of drawers was delivered. Now this chest of drawers is one well-travelled piece of furniture, having been round the globe at least twice, but what is amazing is not that it has managed to survive those trips but that it 'chose' this moment to reveal a rather intriguing find.

It happened when I was cleaning out the drawers liners and dusting down the wood - something which, given how many times my family has moved, has been done multiple times before. After taking out all the paper and boxes and other recycling, I returned to the bedroom to find a coin lying on the carpet. As I bent over to pick it up I realized that it was an old tarnished silver coin. Closer inspection revealed it to be a six pence dated 1866.

Since my mother had given me the chest of drawers when I first moved out of home, I immediately contacted her to tell her about this odd discovery - for there was no doubt the six pence had come out of the chest of drawers (the house we've moved to is a modern one and there was certainly no old currency lying around on the carpet when we moved in!). She and my father were intrigued. Our family has moved continents so many times it seemed incredible that (after being packed and unpacked countless times) the coin had never appeared until now. Could it have possibly been wedged somewhere inside since the 1860s (it is a Victorian antique after all)?

Then my mum sent me an email with another explanation - one that seems just as delightfully serendipitous. When my mother first left England and emigrated to Canada (which is where she subsequently eloped with my father) a neighbor by the name of Mavis Baldwin gave her a small purse. In 1966 it was very common to give a purse with some money in it as good luck and, as the Lancashire version of the saying went, it was lucky to have "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue and a six pence in your shoe" when you got married. Could Mavis Baldwin's good luck gift have been an 1866 six pence? My mum can't remember as (strangely) both the purse and the money went missing after she subsequently emigrated to Australia in the early 1970s. She hasn't seen either since.

Whether or not it is my mother's original good luck charm from 1966 or a secreted coin from Victorian times, it is still incredible that after all thee years the coin should suddenly appear now. If I wrote it in a story no doubt some readers would scoff at such a coincidence, but I like to think of it as a happy accident that the coin should 'chose' to reveal itself now. We're even thinking of naming our new home 'six penny house' in its honor.

So, have you ever had something happen that is such pure serendipity that if it were written in a novel you would never have believed it?

9 comments:

  1. That is so cool! The very discovery opens the creative floodgates about how it came to be there.

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  2. Clare, for years I idly dreamed of purchasing a house I remembered fondly from my childhood (My family and I had lived in the house when I was young). One day on a whim I did a search for real estate listings in my old home town, and a picture of our old house appeared. It had just been put up for sale. We bought it, but if that had been a novel or a movie, no one would have believed the coincidence!

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  3. My younger brother, Jim, was born in 1952. When he was old enough to learn to drive, Dad had a 1952 Chevy pickup truck which he used to teach Jim how to drive. My brother loved that old green truck, which Dad sold a couple of years later.

    Fast forward to just a few years ago. My brother, then age 50, saw an ad on Craigslist for a '52 Chevy truck for sale. A "fixer upper".

    He bought the truck - a blue one - and set out to restore it. When he removed a part on the frame, he discovered that the truck had been repainted. The original color had been green.

    Curious, Jim did some checking, and discovered that the man who sold it to him was the grandson of the man who bought it from our dad.

    So now my brother not only has a truck built the same year he was, but it's the actual one he learned to drive in.

    What a plot for a mystery! Find a decades old clue under the seat?

    .

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  4. Wow Dave that is amazing and Kathryn too! You're right BK my writer's creative antenna is up - I can't wait to see if anything more develops re: the coin!

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  5. This doesn’t really qualify as something that is too strange to be believable in a story, but the mention of the six pence reminds me of the day I was baptized. I grew up in a small church. Because we didn’t have a baptistery, when someone joined the church, we would go down to the river. My whole extended family came that day. I remember my grandfather walking off down the river, alone. I’m not sure why he did that, but along the way he found a coin lying on the river bank. It was just a dime, but it was old enough that it was made of silver instead of copper. He gave me that coin.

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  6. Thanks ever so much for finding my coin. Do you need my address to return it?

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  7. The second book in my earlier series ("The Mesa Conspiracy") was based on a discovery I made in a cemetery outside a tiny, remote town in the Texas Panhandle. An entire section of the cemetery was dedicated to the graves of newborn infant twins--more than ten sets of them, with all the birth/death dates in the 1950s, '60s and '70s.

    Both my agent and my editor refused to believe it was real, preferring to think that it was my imagination rather than a real place.

    My editor thought the whole thing was "too unbelievable for fiction" until I showed him the photos.

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  8. After several years of not buying them anymore, I once found a Little Debbie cake under the sofa, still in the original wrapper and with not a trace of mold or any other living organism.

    I didn't eat it....but the thought did cross my mind.

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  9. Yep. That coin sounds like the perfect talisman for a new book. If it was mine, I'd wear it!

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