Wednesday, March 22, 2017

1976 Honor - The Hundred Penny Box

I had never heard of The Hundred Penny Box by Sharon Bell Mathis before. And there it was before me on the Goodwill shelf, a slim 47 page volume that looked more like a children's picture book at first glance. The illustrations are ethereal, with a dream-like quality, and also strong with emotion. Was this a simple little book with a nice message, or could something powerful be packed inside?
We don't find out right away exactly what the hundred penny box is, but shortly we do see the family situation. Michael's dad's great Aunt Dew has come to live with them. She is very old, a hundred years old, in fact. Michael loves to visit with her and hear her stories, the stories that inhabit every year of her long and interesting life. And that is what the hundred penny box represents, a penny for each year, all packed into an old rugged wooden box.

Michael's mother is having a difficult time, however. There is little meaningful communication between the two women, and some misunderstanding. His mother has had to discard many of Aunt Dew's possessions when she moved in with them. And now she has her eye on the hundred penny box! To her, it is old and ugly and should be replaced with something newer and more attractive. Michael realizes what his mother does not, that the box is not just a decoration or a holder for the pennies, but that it is part of his family heritage and is the essence of Aunt Dew's self-identity.

The balance of power is never equal in a family. And this imbalance is well-felt by the reader. The lead characters, Michael and Aunt Dew, are the least powerful, as the very young and very old are. Simple things like autonomy of self, where to go, what to say, holding on to a beloved item that is slated for disposal, those can be a battle hard to win.

I paid a dollar for this book at Goodwill.

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