News and Tribune


December 23, 2013

CUMMINS: Is giving really better than receiving?

— We come into this world dependent upon receiving. We’re born hungry and begin receiving food, diaper changes and being held and rocked at the slightest whimper. And then we learn the greatest giver slides down our chimney. We’re essentially receivers until hearing something about sharing. Then reality sets in when we hear there’s something better than receiving or sharing. My folks tried teaching me that it was better to give than to receive. It’s kind of agonizing to learn at about age 6 that life is not a free ride, and others have needs. Will I ever learn to break the “I-want” habit?

What was the best gift you ever gave? I’ve never given as much as I should or could. It’s still fun to receive, but I’ve told my kids to not give me anything requiring batteries. I quit shopping for my family years ago and now issue cash, which is simpler than fighting a month of Black Days. It took years to train them to give me something I can use. One year I received three baskets of assorted cheese.  

It was back in 1944 when I was going on 11. It was a time of worry and sacrifice. We were at war, and all able-bodied men were in uniforms. When we said goodbye to them, we knew that some would not come back — the greatest sacrifice. Due to rationing and most all resources going to the war effort, folks at home had little money for Christmas. Mothers with children had a tremendous responsibility keeping the home fires burning as many husbands celebrated Christmas on battlefields.

What could I give? One cold December day after school, I harnessed our team of horses, hitched them to a wagon, took an axe and headed back the ridge where our best cedars grew. I cut about 10 of the best ones and hauled them back to the barn. On a Saturday when Pete came to haul our full milk cans to Cincinnati, I asked him, “Pete, will you take these trees to town for me? One’s for you and the others are for my aunt and her neighbors.” He was a little reluctant, but my friend, and he said, “I guess we can squeeze them in on top of the cans.”

Mom said I could ride with him and so we were on the way to town where we unloaded the trees at my Aunt Fay’s house. Uncle John was over in Germany, and about the only thing we knew about him was his last letter said they were fighting to “take towns.”

We unloaded the trees, and when Pete drove away, I think he was glad he hauled the trees for me. My Aunt Fay said, “My goodness, what are you going to do with all those trees?” I told her the best one was for her, and that I’d take the others to her neighbor families whose husbands were overseas. She looked surprised, and told me where to take them. It took about two hours to carry them around, but when I knocked on the doors, the mothers smiled and thanked me for, as they said, “thinking of them.” To give something, you have to consider the people you want to give to.

If we hadn’t helped each other out during the war, it might have been a different result. It was a lonely and scary time. It seemed the only thing we could do was pitch in, and most everybody did. In later wars, it seemed we didn’t. The last time we were united was during World War II. To unite, you have to give more than you take.

When I got home, I had work to do at the barn, feed and bed down our animals in the warm. It seemed to me that if it was Christmas at the house, it was Christmas at the barn, too. And so, I put a little extra crushed corn on the piles of silage for each milk cow. And I gave our sheep heaping mounds of our best alfalfa hay and put extra crushed corn in their troughs, too.

When I closed the barn doors and walked back to the house in the dark, I felt the Christmas spirit all around me. The fire in the fireplace lit up our tree to make it bright enough. And then I had a good feeling waiting for the silent and holy night to come.

— Contact Terry Cummins at


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