ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

CLOCKWORK CHRISTMAS ORANGE

It wasn't that I didn't like oranges.

I loved them. They were my favorite fruit (not counting the maraschino cherries Mom used to put in our Dr. Pepper on festive occasions). I just couldn't figure out what an orange was doing in the toe of my Christmas stocking every year.

I mean, we lived in citrus country. I knew a little bit about what it takes to grow oranges -- including a long, warm growing season, which I was pretty sure the North Pole didn't have. Nor could I remember any orange symbolism from the Bethlehem Christmas story, unless somebody slipped an orange in with the gold, frankincense and myrrh when I wasn't looking.

But every year, like clockwork, there was an orange in the toe of my stocking. And to tell you the truth, it bugged me a little. I mean, we had oranges all the time. We had orange trees in our backyard, for Pete's sake. What I really wanted in my stocking was candy, and that big old orange took up so much room that it decreased my annual Christmas candy haul by at least two cavities.

"It's Mom who puts them in there," my sister Kathy explained. "She wants to make sure we get something healthy along with all of the candy Santa brings."

"Besides," my sister Wanda Lynne added, "it looks better - all nice and smooth and round. If it was just candy in there, it would be all lumpy."

For years I accepted their explanation without questioning. Nutrition and aesthetics were the bottom line reasons for a lot of things around our house, from liver and onions for dinner to that yellow naughahyde couch in the front room.

Then one day Mom and I were talking about Christmas traditions. I told her how I . . . well, there's no kind way to say this . . . freaked out the previous Christmas because I had forgotten to buy some oranges. And I told her it was true: the stockings really DID look lumpy without that nice, smooth, round orange in the toe.

"Well, there's nothing wrong with a lumpy Christmas stocking," she said, smiling.

I was stunned. "But I thought that's why you always put oranges in our stockings?"

Mom laughed. "Heavens, no," she said.

"Then it was just so we'd have something healthy to eat, right?" I asked.

"Well, if it was, it didn't work," she said. "I don't think any of you ever ate your Christmas orange. You were too busy eating candy."

She had a point there. And suddenly, I didn't.

"So why DID you put the oranges in our stockings?" I asked.

"It's really very simple," she said. "When I was a little girl, things were hard. It was during the Depression, and even though my Dad always had a job, and we had food on our table, there wasn't a lot left over for Christmas presents and such.

"Still, every year we put out our stockings. And every year on Christmas morning, our stockings were filled with little candies and nuts, and some little present -- usually something my mother or father had made for us. And in the toe there was always a sweet, juicy orange. For us, that was a wonderful treat. And so to me, it just isn't Christmas without an orange."

And somehow, it's the same for me. I didn't go through the Great Depression with Mom, and yes, I usually threw away my Christmas orange. But when my family comes down the stairs this Christmas morning, there will be an orange in every stocking toe. Like always.

Like clockwork.

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--- © Joseph Walker

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Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.