The closet was pitch dark, but when we opened one of the Quaker oatmeal cans to drop in our pennies, the copper glistened as if they were pure gold. And, in many ways they were.
My three younger brothers and I grew up in southern Ohio in the 1940s. It was after the depression and after the war, and while jobs were opening up again for folks like my father in advertising, most people at the time were very conservative about how they spent their hard earned cash.
But, come Friday nights -- and we did look forward to Friday nights -- we helped my father relax by combing or brushing his hair after dinner. We made wild hairdos out of his steel black hair, and had little contests to see who could make the funniest hairstyle. Our reward for every minute of brushing was a penny.
For us it was fun, and when bedtime approached, we would each add up our pennies and head one after the other following my mother as if she were the pied piper to their bedroom closet. We each had our own well-worn oatmeal can with our initials on it. We deliberately deposited our pennies and, when the can was recently emptied, we could hear the tin tinkle as each one hit the bottom.
When the cans were so full we could hardly pick them up, we would entrust them to mom and dad to take their contents to the bank so they could exchange them for bills. Those few dollars every few months were our beginnings to a life of 'living and giving for others.' We learned from mom and dad that many soldiers had come home from the war injured and unable to work. Our pennies went to help them, and we felt good about doing our share.
In so many ways, these times seem similar. There are thousands who have served our country, who have come home injured, and are unable to work. I used to think my meager pennies did not matter much. But my parents reinforced the idea that no gift is ever too small to be given to someone in need.
We also learned that time was valued as a gift when we did not have the money to contribute. Bake sales, a handwritten note to a veteran in the hospital, a craft item sent at the holidays -- these small tokens could mean a lot to someone who had little to smile about.
As my skills and talents developed through high school and college, I found other ways to reach out to those in need. I could read and write for veterans and express feelings they had a hard time saying. I was learning to be a philanthropist in my own personal way without even realizing it.
Fast forward through a long and successful career in high-tech marketing and business development, two daughters who brushed their dad's hair (for a quarter a minute!), and I saw this spirit of giving reach another generation. Through an interesting twist of fate, I was diagnosed with cancer at the turn of the 21st century. I was fortunate and all is fine, but my doctor said I should reduce the stress in my life.
So, here I am in my second career as a non-profit consultant, encouraging others to participate in #GivingTuesday. It's a no-brainer. Giving what you can, even if it stretches one a little, can produce such a JOY. I call it radical gratitude. And, it all started with a can of oatmeal filled with pennies.
This post is part of a series produced in celebration of #GivingTuesday, which will take place this year (2014) on December 2. The idea behind #GivingTuesday is to kickoff the holiday-giving season, in the same way that Black Friday and Cyber Monday kickoff the holiday-shopping season. The Huffington Post will feature posts on #GivingTuesday all month in November. To see all the posts in the series, visit here; follow the conversation via #GivingTuesday and learn more here.
And if you'd like to share your own #GivingTuesday story, please send us your 500-850-word post to impactblogs@huffingtonpost.