by Laura Sillerman

Running out of the corner deli this morning, I held the bills I had received in my hand, in order to put them into my wallet when I got home. But the 11 cents change went into my pocket with these words running through my mind, “In case of emergency.”

How silly. Eleven cents couldn’t buy even a stick of chewing gum, let alone help in an emergency.

Decades ago, my father regularly went off on tangential rages when faced with this kind of reality. “I remember when a nickel bought …”; “Back then, you could buy 10 pounds of potatoes for …”

I had no patience with those rants. Money as vacillating yardstick was irrelevant in my teen-age accounting scheme, and, as far as I was concerned, a nickel still bought things I counted as worthwhile (Beech-Nut gum, among them).

Walking home, I quickly blockaded the road to thoughts of what a dime and a penny could once buy, turning away from the nostalgia that kept my father stuck.

So I thought.

The walk from the deli to my front door takes about a 75 seconds or less. In that time, I went to the mid-Ohio Valley and back.

It was June of 1968. The air had the suede feeling that only river towns can conjure and only for about two months of the year.

I was about to graduate from college and I had met a boy who would be staying for another year. We’d blown off the Big Dance in order to drive to the next town in my ’64 Chevy Chevelle. There was a restaurant, paneled in knotty pine, that smelled of garlic and tomato sauce and served beer in pitchers, and it never seemed to close. (Please overlook the obvious DWI implications of this; we’re all grown up and responsible now).

Leaving the restaurant at who knows what time of the night or morning (because we stayed until we knew our pooled resources were just enough for the bill and tip), we heard an ominous sound after starting the car. We were clearly out of gas. “On fumes” was a full tank compared to my gas gauge. There was a gas station right next to the restaurant (classy joint that it was). A gallon of gas cost 28 cents. We had 16.

Rifling through the glove compartment and in the seats, we came up with another nine cents. The pump guy took pity on us and gave us a full gallon.

We drove around some more that night, talking as only two young people can who have discovered someone with whom they can be themselves. I learned as we yammered how important it had been to me to reject the obvious in hopes of creating the possible. It was the most astonishing and innocent and transformative thing.

Many years later, with him long married to the woman who is truly his twin flame and me to the man who is mine, there is the certainty that the singular position of that night, that epiphany and that person in my life will never change.

For all the years we accumulate, and all the incursions of cynical response to hurtful situations and all the challenges that years can bring, there is the counterbalance of one moment, one midnight, one sweet breath of your first authentic grown-up self.

With good fortune, we get to live the rest of our years authentically — or, at the very least, to rediscover what is authentic at some point. We age, we change, we seek what is immutable within us.

Change. Eleven cents. Just enough to buy a stunning memory and to connect a person to what endures.

Laura Baudo Sillerman, an author and poet, is president of a New York City-based charitable foundation.

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