Informal Essay with Ernest Buckler’s “Penny in the Dust”

“Penny in the Dust” is about a farmer’s kid that plays “treasure hunting” with his precious penny in the dust until he lost it for real. Why is he doing that? He can’t find that penny in the dust, so what will he do next? This story reflects the wondrous grace that a father has for his children. It is also relatable because we like to treat some things recklessly, until we lose it and later realize how valuable it is.

Ernest Buckler wrote a story called “Penny in the Dust” about the main character, Peter, a son of a farmer, and his golden penny. The story starts with Peter and his sister walking together to their father’s funeral. They were reminiscing the memories of their father. Peter’s sister points out to the time when Peter was 7 years old and everybody thought he was lost while he was sleeping on his bed, hiding from reality.

The story continues with Peter describing his father when he was at that age. In a nutshell, he is an awkward dad that still love his son but doesn’t know how to show it. It does not mean that he is evil or neglectful, but the way he shows love is different.

One day, the father gives Peter a golden penny. At first, Peter wants to use that penny to buy a bag of popcorn. But somehow, due to daydreaming in the middle of a road at his journey to the store, that penny ends up as a toy for “treasure hunting” on that road (*facepalm* That is one of the most random thing that I could imagine… just out of nowhere, stop in the middle of the road and play with a penny).

Peter buries that penny in the sand, closes his eyes, walks away from that spot, and then tries to find it. He did this a few times, until the penny was lost for real.

I think this is the moment when somebody would say, “I am so stupid!” and tries to redeem themselves by doing something else or at least trying to fix the mistake. In the story, after Peter lost the penny, then he skips the story to nighttime.

Peter’s family was looking for him until his mother found him in his bed. Everybody was worried about him, and there he was, sleeping on his own bed. When his parents asked him where he had been. He told them about the lost penny, but not how he lost the penny. He thinks that by not telling his parents of what actually happen, it will save his dignity a little bit.

Apparently, after he lost the penny and realized he lost it for good. He wanted to run away from the feeling of guilt and shame from doing a silly play like that. It also causes him to run away from his parents from telling the truth. Thus, he goes to the place where he could escape that bad feeling, his own bed.

Fast-forward the story to the next morning, the day starts as usual with working at the farm until the father asked Peter where he lost the penny. The father looks for the penny and he finds it at once.

After the lost penny is found, there is a touching conversation between Peter and his father. The father thought that Peter wouldn’t tell the truth because he is afraid of getting beat up by his dad. Peter tries to explain why he did his little game. He was trying to tell the truth because he felt guilty for letting such a thought to go through his dad’s mind. He tried to make it right.

In the end of the story, we see a touching ending where the father shows forgiveness and love to Peter. The father did not give the penny back to him though, and put it in his own pocket.

Now back to the present at the day of the funeral, the older Peter found the penny again, in his father’s pocket. Still shining, just like it used to be, and Peter left it there in his father’s pocket.

What interests me here is how Peter treated the penny before he lost it. Honestly, if I found a kid that plays with a penny like that, I would have either reported it to the parents or told the other kids to be friends with him. Since the story is told through Peter’s perspective, we could see his process of thoughts and at least try to understand why did he do this charade with the penny.

It was the thrill that he has every time he found the “hidden” penny. Instead of treating a penny as a penny, Peter deals with it as if it was a treasure worth a million dollars after he lost it. I think it was that precious for him because it was from his father. He said it in the story that he did not like the idea of the penny disappearing, yet he still plays around with that penny.

My best guess is because the nature of kids; the age of discovery and interaction, and when they lost something, they learn something new. Peter learned something when he lost that penny. He discovers the worth of the penny that allows him to see the love of his father.

Kids are reckless human beings kay (which is why they need to be educated with patience), but their parents still love them. The father in this story also loved Peter despite his childish act. His mercy overcomes Peter’s ego. It is amazing how grace can overcome selfish flesh, yet often we don’t see the value of this grace and choose to be selfish.

This momentary pleasure that distracts us from reality is experienced by everybody. Just like Peter, sometimes we become reckless and underestimate little things in our lives, until we lose it. The regret comes over us and it makes us secluded from those who truly care to us.

From my personal experience, I admit it that I did the same thing like Peter, even several times in my life. For Peter, it’s losing a penny. For me, it starts as simple as playing with my mom’s makeup (and yes she went mad, but still loves me anyway). As I grew up, I realized that reality in life is unavoidable at any stage of life.

I forsake the relationship with my parents, for my new friends that barely know who I am. I forsake the relationship with real people, for the comfort of virtual world, a.k.a. my cellphone.

Looking back at those times, I think to myself, “Why did I do those things?” The only answer that I could give is that I don’t know which one is right or wrong, so I just did those things without thinking about the consequences. It may sound too simple or even oblivious, but hey, that’s the truth about my younger self, including Peter.

But remember those precious people in our lives? They are the ones that are always there for us and willing to give grace to us and to teach us the important things in life. In this story, Peter’s father shows love through his effort in looking for the lost penny and tries to convince Peter that he won’t do any harm to Peter despite his childish play.

In my life, I see that character clearly in my God. Both of them (God and Peter’s father) shows grace, mercy, and judgement. God gives me grace and forgiveness despite my reckless deeds, and He gives that to everybody on this earth. However, as a just God (and just like Peter’s father that still wants to show fairness), God’s judgement will fall upon every living being according to their deeds on earth. Consequences are real and needs to be dealt with.

I realize that I am not perfect and no one is perfect except Jesus Christ. We humans are prone to make mistakes, especially when we think that we are entitled to something. We should not belittle this matter. Every single thing that God put in our hands are like a penny. Depends on how we handle it, it would determine its value in our eyes.

The penny may look valuable to us, but this “penny” that God give in our lives should not be a hindrance. Peter’s penny should not blind him from the father’s love. God’s blessing should not be my focus (or even anyone). Instead of looking at what God can give through His hands, I should look at His face and who God really is. We should try to look at the giver of the “penny”, and that is what matters more than the penny.


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