The Tin Cup

The tin cup, held by Ricky (now a little older)

My older brother, Dave, was the brilliant mastermind and orchestrator of many of our adventures … and misadventures.

One Christmas season, he decided to teach all us “little kids” (the younger half of our 10-kid brew) how to sing carols.  We were his captive students.  Dave conducted his clandestine music lessons up in the attic-converted bedroom.  As most of our projects were on a “need to know” basis, and Mom and Dad didn’t need to know, this musical adventure would be no exception.

Under Dave’s tutelage we sounded OK, but when he piped in with his masterful harmony and vocal accompaniment, we were a hit! 

Us:  “And heaven and nature sing …”

Dave, in a deep, bass voice:  “And heaven and nature …”

Us:  “And heaven and nature sing …”

Dave:  “And heaven and nature …”

All, in amazing, sweet harmony (provided by Dave): “And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing!” 

We couldn’t wait to hit the streets! 

Little Ricky was too little to sing, being only about four years old.  But boy, was he cute, with his dirty blonde hair and big, blue, nickel eyes.  So Dave had a special job for him. 

We headed outside into the cool December night, bundled up and under the cover of darkness, and walked to the top of the street.  We arranged ourselves on an old, stone porch, just like Dave coached us in practice, and Ricky rang the doorbell.  He stepped back to stand in front of us, with Mom’s little tin measuring cup in his outstretched hand.

“Joy to the world …” we happily belted out as the front door opened.  The silver-haired couple smiled, and dropped a coin in the cup.  Dave’s plan was brilliant.  We were going to be rich!

We sang for just about everyone on the street, and brought in quite a haul of coins.  After we got back home, Dave counted out the money and divided it between us.  He then swore us to secrecy (standard operating procedure), “Don’t ever tell Mom or Dad!”

But somehow or another, Dad found out.  Maybe it was one of the neighbors, or maybe it was a traitor from within our ranks.  Either way, we were in big trouble. 

We had a large kitchen table (go figure), where Dad sat at the head. 

“What’s this I hear about my children begging?” asked Dad.

As we were all sworn to secrecy, we hung our heads in a deafening, guilt-ridden silence.

But Dad had a way of extracting the truth from us, and not without excruciating, emotional pain.

“Well?” he boomed.

Someone folded.  I don’t remember who, but within minutes, the facts were laid out before him.  Yes, we sang for the neighbors, and yes, we let them put money into the little cup Ricky held out.  We trembled at the prospect of corporal punishment, which was no stranger to our house.  But perhaps the spirit of the season, and the fact that “Santa” had already purchased all of our Christmas presents had softened Dad’s mood.  He did something far more guilt-wrenching instead.  He lectured and moralized, convicting us to the bone. 

Dad didn’t make us return the money or force us to make any promises that night, but he had effectively put an end to our caroling career.

We were the lowest of the low, and we bore the guilt of ill-gotten money.  How could we possibly bring ourselves back to the point of redemption?  To this day, I don’t know what Dave, Timmy, Bobby, or Ricky did, but Joey and I, close companions just one year apart, arrived at a decision.  We would not use this filthy lucre.  We would bury it.  And bury it we did, somewhere in the back yard by the big tree.

No, a fortune is not buried there.  Just a few pennies, nickels and dimes.  But what is buried and forgotten there is the guilt and shame of greedily accepting gain for something which should have been given freely — the simplistic purity of children singing, “Joy To The World.”

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7 Responses to “The Tin Cup”

  1. catamountcarpet Says:

    very cool story and another lesson to be shared

  2. Adrian Says:

    You confused Christmas with a money making situation? What a novel idea!

    Nice post!

    • judyransom Says:

      Yes, with no allowance, and rainbow colors of penny candy calling to us through glass display cases, we were always looking for ways to make money. We would shovel entire driveways for five bucks — and then split the cash! Our neighbors had it made.

  3. Rick Szumski Says:

    I am that little Ricky and I was there. That is how it went down, good job of truthing it, Sis. Your version of it is nothing short of brilliant.

    • judyransom Says:

      I was wondering how long it would take you to find this post, Rick! What I wouldn’t do for a photo of you holding that cup back then, and a recording of our singing!

  4. Robyn Says:

    Superb story as usual. If Dave had taken this money making Christmas idea one step further, your fearless leader, older brother Dave, might have started Walmart!

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