Gifts of the Heart


I am writing this holiday message as many of our neighbors remain homeless and suffering, while others are filled with anxiety about what the future will bring. If you are among them, please know that you are in my prayers as I offer this small story of hope.

Those who know me well are aware of my family’s humble beginnings.

My parents began their married life together as share croppers in Manning, S.C. Then they moved to Baltimore to build a better life.

Dad worked as a laborer. Two parents and seven children lived in a rented, four-room house with one bathroom that was so damp that, whenever it rained, we thought we were outside.

Our rented house in South Baltimore was so small that we children often had to go to the local library to do our homework. We could not have friends visit because we had nowhere for them to sleep.

Now, here is the hope-filled part of my story.

One day, when I was about ten years old, when my parents told us that there would be no money for Christmas presents that year. They had saved just enough money for a down payment – and we were going to move into our own home.

Rather than feeling disappointed about our gift-less Christmas, we children were excited and, in the months that followed, secretly saved up all our money from doing chores in the community and purchased household gifts for the new house. To keep our gifts a surprise, our next door neighbor, Ms. Westbrooks, allowed us to hide the trash cans, curtains, soap dishes, and towels in her house.

Moving into our own home was a transformative event in my life.

I still can remember the name of the seller (Mr. Bracken) and the real estate agent (Mr. Bevard). Even more vividly, I recall how, on Christmas day, we surprised our parents with our gifts.

We were laughing and filled with excitement – and, as they looked at the gifts that we had purchased, Mother and Dad had tears of joy in their eyes.

At that moment, they realized that they were succeeding in life. They were providing a home for their family, and, even more important, they were raising children who had learned what is truly important in life.

I share this personal memory with you, especially those of you who are worried and disappointed during the holiday season. Please know that, even in times of hardship, you have it within your power to create better lives.

I will never forget the first day that we moved into our home. We suddenly had 2 baths and 4 bedrooms. (When you grow up in a family with sisters, you remember things like that quite clearly.)

For the first time in my life, I could feel the grass growing under my feet in a yard that we owned.

My father could do his gardening. He was excellent at it, and took such pride in his front yard that we thought it was the prettiest yard in the block. Since his death, my family and our neighbors on Lyndhurst Street have continued to plant flowers there every spring – just the way that Dad would have done it.

By moving to Edmondson Village when we did, we children had the opportunity to attend better schools – and every child of Robert and Ruth Cummings, once South Carolina share croppers, has been able to succeed in life.

So, for those reading these words at a time of disappointment, please know that you have within you the power to persevere. Better days are ahead as long as we remember that we all are on journeys of hope.

Our most important gifts to each other are not to be found in the shopping centers. Your family needs you more than they need material gifts purchased on a credit card.

Our greatest gifts to each other are gifts of the heart.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) represents Maryland’s seventh congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Gifts of the Heart

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