Saturday, December 22, 2007

oranges in winter


This is a cautionary tale against longing for the good old days when things were simpler. Every time I wander into this territory my elderly friend Margie pulls me back into reality.

"Things were not go good back then," she cautioned.

"In fact things were very, very difficult. Have you got a taste for strawberry jam in January? You better hope you planted strawberries, tended them and harvested the berries. Did you remember to get enough sugar for the canning process?" she asked.

Even the simplest tasks required an incredible amount of planning and work. Laundry? You've got to render the fat and make the soap first.

My friend was raised on a farm in the remotest part of North Dakota. Her parents were immigrants who worked the land as tenant farmers. It was a life of subsistance and unfortunately a lonely childhood devoid of emotional support and joy.

Her father was a strict disciplinarian who believed that children were to be seen and not heard. The mother bore children over a great time span as the family needed a new source of free labor as the older children left for the city. Even they couldn't escape completely as they were expected to send money home to the farm. There were no toys, they were considered frivolous and my friend never owned a doll. Any free time was spent daydreaming in the apple orchard.

Their mother prepared a special dinner on Christmas eve but there were no gifts and one Christmas her father presented the children with coal, as if to emphasize his point of view, that life was a never ending cycle of grueling work with no hope for a bit of magic.

One year her older sister Laura and husband Tom returned to North Dakota for Christmas. Before they left Wisconsin they stopped into a green grocer's in Milwaukee and made a surprising purchase, a fresh orange for each child. It doesn't sounds like much does it? Fresh oranges at any time of the year were a great extravagance but an orange in winter was akin to finding precious rubies from Mars in your Christmas stocking.

It's nothing in this world of global markets to have oranges in winter and asparagus in January because everything is in season somewhere in this world. But in those days people and goods were separated by vast distances without any chance of connecting.

Laura and Tom arrived at the farmhouse and later that night after the children had gone to bed they laid out the oranges on the farmhouse table. When my friend woke up in the morning she could smell the aroma of the fresh oranges. It was an impossiblity, but there they were, the beautiful fruit lined up on the kitchen table. In that single moment she believed....there truly must be a Santa Claus. Who else could work such a miracle as oranges in winter?

NOTE: Unfortunately a childhood devoid of hope, focused only on hard work can create an adult who has difficulty engaging in play and their life becomes a never-ending cycle of tasks.

Tomorrow there will be a reading assignment. It's a wonderful story so be sure to come back.


Brenda said...

What a wonderful Blog. I am loving it immensley. Have read "Farmers Wife" for some time now but this one is just great. This last story is precious.

Zanne said...

Thanks so much for making the jump to the "at home" portion of my blogging empire. (Said with tongue firmly in cheek). I truly appreciate all my readers.

Vee ~ A Haven for Vee said...

My own grandfather often spoke lovingly of his Christmas orange. It was the only time of the year when he had one. When we were gathered around the breakfast table, he would often share his Christmas orange story.

Your story brought back such wonderful memories. I am sorry that your friend had such a difficult childhood with a father who didn't "get it."

Consider yourself added to my blog list because I must share what you are writing here.

martina said...

My Dad also was a farmer's son in North Dakota. Times were tough during the Depression, but there was an abundance of love. He always talked about finding the Christmas orange and a few small toys in his stocking.

StitchinByTheLake said...

Though I am sometimes guilty of lamenting how times have changed, oh my I'm glad times have changed. blessings, marlene

Princess S said...

Your post make me think I have met a kindred spirit, I like to romanticize about a simpler time. My husband laughs at me because I dream of living off of the land someday. In a hectic world it is a great place to go in my mind sometimes. Thank you agian for sharing I can't wait for more!!!

Karen said...

What a cute arrangement, with those oranges!!

We always used to get an orange in our Christmas stocking. Not sure why, but it was just something that was done. oranges were plentiful as it was summertime in NZ.

I sometimes yearn for the simpler life. But also appreciate the things that moderm life has brought me. Have to learn to balance the two so as to have the best of both worlds...