From a penny to a nickel overnight

Castlegar News bi-weekly columnist relates a rich recollection

Karen Haviland

The longer I live the more I delight in life’s twists, turns and quirks. I especially like those turns that stay with you even over 40 years later.

When I was 19 or so I worked at a restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, called The New Yorker. It was a Jewish restaurant and I had fun learning all about Jewish food, culture, customs and religion. Mind you, I was the only Shiksa (Gentile white woman) who worked in the restaurant.

Fortunately for me, there was the manager/hostess named Penny. Penny was about 15 years older than me and knowing that I was far away from home with no family support whatsoever, she decided to take me under her wing.

Penny was a great lot of fun and each day brought a laugh as she played her practical jokes and good-naturedly poked fun at me for all my Shiksa ways. In a way Penny became a sort of surrogate mother/older sister.

She would give me tips on everything from manicures to recipes to hair styles and never failed to correct my English.

We became close and yet, curiously, I was never invited to her house, nor did I invite her to mine. Outside of work we had no contact whatsoever.

Then one day while I was at work Penny asked me if I would like to go out to dinner. Knowing I had no money for such a luxury I declined. Quickly sensing my predicament Penny reassured me that the offer was her treat. Too proud for my own good, I declined. Penny insisted…and insisted…and insisted even offering to pay for my babysitter.

Finally, I gave in. But when I heard where she wanted to take me presented a huge problem for me. She wanted to treat me to a steak at one of the finest restaurants Columbus had to offer at that time. The only problem for me was that I didn’t have a fancy dress to wear and where we were going was a very formal place.

After explaining the situation to Penny, she looked at me for a bit and said, “Why don’t you come over to my place tonight after work? I think we’re about the same size and I just might have a dress that will fit you.”

I agreed, and so that evening I went to her home.

When she led me into her bedroom to look through her closet I was taken back by the many beautiful and utterly expensive dresses and shoes she had crammed in there. I’m sure my eyes bugged out of my head.

“Pick any one you want,” she generously said. I finally settled on a beautiful emerald green silk dress with sequins. It was a cocktail dress in every sense of the word.

That night was magical. There I was, a gauche 19-year-old girl, sitting in the finest restaurant I had ever been to, dressed to the nines. Her husband was charming, Penny was sweet and funny and I was having the time of my life. I felt like Cinderella.

As we said our goodbyes, Penny gave me a long and tender hug. I thought I saw a tear in her eye, but that could just have been my imagination.

That was the last time I ever saw Penny.

The next morning, still in high spirits, I went to work hoping to thank Penny once again for such a generous gesture, but she wasn’t there. In fact, I doubt she was even in the state anymore.

It seems Penny, good old trustworthy Penny, had been robbing the restaurant blind and the night of the dinner had taken the last two or so days earnings home with her instead of to the bank.

It seems my wonderful, shiny Penny was actually a dull nickel and had basically robbed the restaurant and fled into the night. That dinner out was most likely paid for with Penny’s proceeds.

Wherever you are Penny, thank you for the night and your friendship towards a scared girl far away from home.

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