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Basic happiness

TOWNER, N.D. -- Something about Christmas and the season makes me think about our priorities -- the gifts we give, the gifts we ask for, the things we need, what we most appreciate.

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Taylor, who ranches near Towner, N.D., is an Agweek columnist.

TOWNER, N.D. -- Something about Christmas and the season makes me think about our priorities -- the gifts we give, the gifts we ask for, the things we need, what we most appreciate.

When we have a good meal in our home or I buy the kids a new winter coat, I often think of my dad. I remember many times when he was pondering the limited financial success of his life or thinking back on his work to provide for his family, he'd say, "Well, we've always had plenty of good food, and warm clothes for everyone."

It used to seem funny to me when I was younger and Dad would say that. Much of today's culture would say success is tied to the size of your house, the prestige of your new car or the sum total of your bank account. Dad's definition was more basic -- warm and well-fed.

As I got older and became a father, Dad's values began to make more sense to me. I knew where his appreciation for the basics originated. Born in 1921, Dad's father died when he was just a year and a half old. Along with his baby sister and his big brother, he was raised by his widow mother and widowed grandmother through the Depression of the 1930s. I reckon he was imprinted with a deep knowledge of scarcity and an appreciation for the basics in life.

Both my parents had that Depression-era appreciation with Mom born to a family of seven children in 1932 to an immigrant Norwegian farmer. It helped me understand why they would talk about getting an orange or a new pair of socks in their Christmas stocking, or what a special treat it was if my Grandfather Syvert would bring home a candy bar from town and split it into seven equal parts for Mom and her siblings. We're amused by those stories now when we have so much more.

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But not everyone has so much more. That's why we still have people ringing bells and collecting money in Salvation Army kettles at Christmas. And those of us who can relate to the plea, or have empathy and a generous spirit, or maybe were raised with Depression-era values, dig into our pockets and put some money in those red kettles.

I smiled when I heard the story about a gold coin showing up in a red kettle in Fargo, N.D. Wrapped in a paper bill, the anonymously donated gold coin had a value of $1,300. It was a big boost for the cause championed by the bell ringer that day. Fargo kettles have had gold coins show up in them for 12 years running, and I guess it happens in kettles across the country.

The Salvation Army does a lot to satisfy what are called "basic needs" for people who are struggling -- like a hot meal and some warm clothes. The same things my father prided himself in providing his family.

At Christmas, the Salvation Army gives us an opportunity to help provide those basics for other families, and they connect us with people we do not know but who need our help.

So, as I remember the lessons of my parents about food and warmth this Christmas, our children can count on finding socks and long underwear under the tree, and some fruit and beef jerky in their Christmas stockings. They'll get toys and frivolous things, too, but not without also getting a story about my father's pride in providing the basics.

And I'll put money in their little hands to stuff in the red kettle when we walk by a bell ringer so they know the importance of helping others stay warm and well-fed this holiday season. Merry Christmas, everybody.

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