News and Tribune

August 19, 2013

CUMMINS: Gather ye, the milestones

Local columnist

A milestone is a stone marking each mile, which is considered a significant point in one’s life journey and development. We travel life’s road collecting various milestones, from a birth certificate to certification when you pass to the unknown. Between birth and death, we are issued numerous certificates and licenses. If you pin these many documents to your living room wall, you won’t have to paint it. Some think a marriage license is one of the more important ones while others consider divorce papers as significant as the Declaration of Independence. 

Which certificate is the one you cherish most? As I think back when my mind is alert, my driver’s license was the key to my manhood, or so I thought. A driver’s license legally permits you to take out girls, which leads to blood tests and a marriage license. That leads to children, and then you attend kindergarten graduation ceremonies and sit in hot sun watching your babies strive for participation certificates by trying to hit or kick a Little League ball. In my historical cardboard box, I still have vacation Bible school certificates certifying I memorized the Ten Commandments, and then forgot some. 

Some of my darkest days were preparing my children for their driver’s test. During those years, I raised my voice to high pitches as each of my four children wrecked a car early in life. When I’d call my insurance agent, he’d say, “Oh, no,” but meant, “Oh, yes.” The day after my only precious daughter got her driver’s license, she side-swiped a car. Not her fault, it was “too close.” My twin sons loaded two other 16-year olds — nothing deadlier — into my gas-saving small car and rolled it over against a dirt bank. They pushed it back up, drove home and greeted me with, “Don’t get excited.”

A birth certificate, driver’s license and a high school diploma sets you up for life. A marriage license may or may not set you back. After having children, you watch them receive certificates. You smile, beaming proudly, as they walk back to you, and then they walk away maybe to a college sheepskin, and then a marriage license certifying grandchildren. Have you ever driven 200 miles to watch a granddaughter receive a Girl Scout certificate? They give certificates for everything from kindergarten graduation to working 40 years racing rats. Milestones wear you down.

A high school diploma, symbolizing academic achievement where graduates wear a silly cap and gown, is the breakaway point. Kids say I’m out of here and leave you. You’re relieved. They return. It’s money. So you sit them down and explain that the more certificates they get the better chance they have. You write a certified check and they leave again. All you want from them is a certificate expressing appreciation. All they want from you is being there when they need you. When you need someone to cry on, they write a prescription to Walgreens. If you have a Medicare certificate, you lean on the government’s shoulder, your last hope.

Certificates saying he participated in something, or a flowery one indicating he went beyond the call of duty is not as meaningful as a plaque. When you get a plaque, you know they took up a collection. I’ve donated many times. You attend an honor dinner and it takes up to midnight to give out a stack of plaques. You learn the history of people, their birth, their degrees and how they volunteered or worked endlessly, tirelessly for mankind. Don’t tell me they didn’t get tired. It makes me tired listening to it. Some of these speeches are longer than those President Obama gave when he tried to change everything. 

It’s good to know other people think about you, call out your name and have you walk up there to a podium. Success in life is being called to a podium. They read, “In recognition of” some small thing that we might have done. It makes us beam a little, but embarrassing when you consider what others have done. I’ve received a couple of plaques in my time. One recognized me as an Honorary Future Farmer which I should have been, or maybe a hedge fund tycoon raking it in.  

The Lord giveth, and taketh away at the last milestone. When they come to take away my driver’s license and put my name on another roll, I’ll go into politics. It seems like those guys live forever.

— Contact Terry Cummins at