208 Rich Nichols


My grandfather’s name was Benjamin Franklin Nichols. He lived in Philadelphia most of his life, but he’s buried in the village of Guthriesville, west of the city near Downingtown. You can still see his tombstone there in the hillside cemetery of the Hopewell Methodist Church. I never really knew him; he died shortly after I was born.

His son (my father, Ralph Nichols) used to collect silvery half dollars—commemorative coins, in a way—with Benjamin Franklin on the face side and a bold striking on the back of the Liberty Bell. 

He left me a leather-bound box of several dozen of them when he died, and ever since I have followed a different path; what he devotedly acquired, I chose to devotedly disperse as personal offerings and tokens of the city’s terroir.

I’ve given away those half dollars for years—slipped them into poor boxes in Santo Domingo, into the palm of a driver who got us to the Moscow Airport in time to catch our plane, to our oldest son on the occasion of his 50th birthday. We’ve even cemented one into the sidewalk outside our home in Narberth, watching wide-eyed toddlers pull up short, stoop down and realize that some things insist on stubbornly remaining in place.

 Coins from the stash have been our souvenirs to first-time visitors to Philadelphia and, in a quiet way, a salute to a grandfather named for the city’s most illustrious founding father. They are almost gone now, and soon enough I suspect I will be too, my hair long ago turned silvery, a country hillside beckoning. I have saved one last coin for our youngest son, Coan. He is a few years shy of 50, the time for the leather-bound box lid to flip open. And then close for eternity, my mission—or my humblest mission, at least—accomplished.