by Richard Vanduyvendyk
The sad news about the death of the $1 and $2 dollar bills was on the news today. I’m sorry for their loss. The world will never be the same. It may seem the same to you unfamiliar with these notes, but I have always had a few $1 and $2 notes in my wallet. They’re precious, hard to spend, and by keeping them I am never truly broke.
These beautiful classical notes, like Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, are like the music that brings us back to our youth, when a dollar was a dollar bill. I still don’t know what my weight is in kilograms, or my height in centimetres, a perfect summer’s day is still 72 degrees whereas 20 degrees seems kind of cool. The old bills feel like real money that can buy multiple packs of hockey cards, several comic books, 16 child bus tickets on a Calgary bus, and loads of chocolate bars. Loonies and toonies are just pocket change stripped of the silver that used to give money true value.
It is with a heavy heart that I must tell you that the one and two dollar bills will not be considered legal tender as of January 1st, 2021. You will still be able to cash them in at The Bank of Canada, wherever that is. Those of you, who have ever gone to a restaurant with me, know that I’ve used them for the Spartan tips I used to give when we still went to restaurants before the plague. The waitresses were usually so excited about getting an old bill that they overlook the frugality of the sum. I gave up the stingy tip routine in restaurants when my daughter, Matilda, who works in a restaurant, explained to me the perilous economic realities of the average waitress. Since then, I use them for birthday presents (also cheap), buying snacks, and making up the difference in larger purchases. A conversation always ensues, which allows for the creative juices to flow. It fact, I attribute my interest in creative writing to $1 and $2 bills.
I’ve never met anyone who didn’t enjoy receiving a $1 or $2 dollar bill. Perhaps it’s the nostalgia or the uniqueness of the experience. Maybe they instinctively know there are receiving something of value.
I used to get a dollar for shovelling a driveway back when a dollar was a dollar bill. I’d check the note to see if the Queen had a devil in her hair. The first notes issued in 1954 had what looked like a devil in the Queen’s hair; the Queen’s hairdo was altered to eliminate the devil. Demonic bills continue to be more valuable amongst collectors.
The one-dollar bill had a scene of a prairie dirt road going to nowhere. Being a prairie boy, I always wondered where that road was and where it was going to. Why did that road make it onto the one-dollar bill? Now Iqaluit has a famous road called ”The Road to Nowhere.” My bride and I have had the pleasure of walking down that road which made me think of the $1 bill of my youth. I hope that someday they will put the Road to Nowhere in Iqaluit on the $10 dollar bill so that a new generation can wonder where in the heck we are all going. Currency has a distinct lack of a philosophical perspective.
Now it seems that my mattress full of one and two-dollar bills has nowhere to go. Gone like the Dodo bird, relegated to the memories of the elderly and obsolete. Canadian Bank and Note Company stopped making dollar notes in 1987 when the loonie replaced it. In 1996 the $2 note was replaced by the toonie. All of a sudden when you counted the change in your pocket, it could reach over $10.
I keep all my money in the drawer of an old coffee grinder which I still have stuffed with $1 and $2 notes. I’d bring them to the bank and exchange them for silver dollars or buy hockey cards and comics. I worked on my uncle’s nursery in Saskatoon for a dollar a day before I was ten. He’d dole out the dollar bill at the end of the day and I’d put it in a dirty sock so none of my cousins would find it. A dollar bill used to buy ten chocolate bars! For a quarter, you could get a pop, a chocolate bar, and a five-cent bag of chips. The loonies can’t usually pay for one chocolate bar. It’s clear to me that a dollar note feels like it has much more value than a loonie. So when I give you a dollar for your birthday, it’s like giving you a day’s wages or a big pile of chocolate bars! I’m probably the most generous and extravagant guy you know. Ah, but you’re worth it.
Almost everyone that receives a dollar note from me asks as to how I got these antiquities, thereby giving the opening required to delve into creative storytelling. Having raised cattle, I sometimes have dipped into stories exuding in bovine excrement. The usual story was that when my mother died, my siblings got the house and the car, whereas I got her doilies and her old bed and mattress. It was well known to my siblings that my mother didn’t trust banks, having gone through the war. While examining the mattress I noticed a zipper on the back and subsequently discovered that the mattress was not filled with the foam but a cornucopia of low denomination notes. The Queen was much better looking in those days and didn’t have to share space with long-dead Prime Ministers and others. Rule Britannia! Paper money was paper money. I refused to disclose just how much money was contained in the mattress to my siblings; however, they all noticed that I seemed to have a constant supply of notes which they received sparingly on their birthdays.
I’ll hand out dollar bills to grandchildren for good report cards, bad report cards, lost teeth, and birthdays. Friend’s received them for birthdays and Christmas presents and down payments for items I never ended up paying them for. What will be missed by the demise of the dollar notes is the opportunity to wax eloquently on the origins of my $1 and $2 dollar notes. The fantastical stories about my mother’s mattress, or the bag of money I found in the truck of a car in a wrecked car graveyard, or the bundle of money found behind the cornerstone of a building we were demolishing won’t have the chance to be born into myths, legends and stories. The best story, which was reserved for grandchildren, was about an old bank robber on my paper route that told me of his stolen treasure moments before he died. Yes, it was in his mattress and I had to roll the dead old guy out of bed to flip the mattress and get the money. Soon I’ll run out of dollar bills and the stories that always accompanied them will disappear like the morning dew.
I’ve sent dollar bills to all of my grandchildren to spend on something they may like for St. Nicolaas Day (Dec.6th). The hope is that when they grow old and cash doesn’t exist anymore, that they will remember the dollar notes they received from their grandfather. Then they can preface their stories with, “Back in the day when a dollar was a dollar bill, we used to get a dollar note for losing a tooth. Nowadays kids expect $20 in credits slapped onto their credit cards!”
My thanks go out to Sean at Alliance Coins in Almonte, and to Heather in particular, who always gave me the best, least crinkled dollar notes available at face value from her till. This has been going on for 15 years. You have no idea how many stories have been generated from your actions. The truth may set you free, but dollar bills will fuel your imaginations.
God Save the (young) Queen!