Pennies for Ben

September 26, 2009 § Leave a comment

Ben_Franklin_SeatedIn Philadelphia Mom and Bob and I went to the courtyard where Ben Franklin’s house once stood. Gray stone squares are carved with excerpts from letters he wrote to his wife Deborah about the house she was moving into and furnishing while he was being diplomatic in England. (She begged him to come home often, writing that she was ill due to “dissatisfied distress” at his absence; he preferred being feted in London and Oxford.) But these are not the letters quoted. Rather, discussions of books, bedrooms, and curtains.
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I found it more evocative than many actual famous-person residences I’ve seen, even those preserved down to the jacket and candle stub, perhaps because words live beyond the control of curators. It brought back to me that passion between spouses for a new home being made slowly. I remember long days of tramping down Orchard Street looking for curtain material—calling Charles at work to update him on my progress—and weekends in Beacon and Gardiner buying antiques. Now I’m reduced to buying litter boxes and pet candles (specially designed to cover pet odors—no, I didn’t believe it either, but they smell nice).

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Franklin is buried a few blocks from where his house used to be. You have to pay to get into the graveyard, so we looked through the fence instead. His gravestone (flush with the ground) was covered in pennies. I like to think this is a nation of profligates’ repudiation of the idea that a penny saved is a penny earned, but it’s more likely that it’s a nation of dimwits’ idea of tribute to this most practical of our country’s founders.

***

Who is rich? He that is content. Who is that? Nobody.

–Ben Franklin

If all the rich people in the world divided up their money among themselves there wouldn’t be enough to go around.

–Christina Stead

Money

Quarterly, is it, money reproaches me:
‘Why do you let me lie here wastefully?
I am all you never had of goods and sex.
You could get them still by writing a few cheques.’

So I look at others, what they do with theirs:
They certainly don’t keep it upstairs.
By now they’ve a second house and car and wife:
Clearly money has something to do with life

—In fact, they’ve a lot in common, if you enquire:
You can’t put off being young until you retire,
And however you bank your screw, the money you save
Won’t in the end buy you more than a shave.

I listen to money singing. It’s like looking down
From long french windows at a provincial town,
The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.

–Philip Larkin

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