Sunday, December 08, 2013

Oranges & Tangerines for Christmas

My most memorable Christmas?  It would have to be the year of the oranges and tangerines.   
It was  1944.  The whole world was at war, in the Pacific and in Europe.  But all we children knew was that our uncles wore spiffy uniforms and the grownups listened to the radio news a lot.  We looked forward to Santa's annual visit, secrets and surprises.  
This most special holiday was spent at Grandma's house in Des Moines.  And this year her two-bedroom bungalow bedded down a dozen relatives, give or take a few.  Smiling and capable, Grandma took everything in her stride.   
In a corner of the living room stood a tall pine tree, smelling wondrously of the woods.  It was aglow with colored lights, glass ornaments, handfuls of tinsel.  Underneath was a snow scene of cotton arranged around a real mirror, looking like a frozen pond, with little green bristle evergreens placed around.  A tiny ice skater figurine could gracefully glide its surface, letting small hands take part in imaginative play.
Well, this Christmas was different from all the others in one special way. But I'm ahead of my story.  Turn back a few days, and a hundred miles or so, to Marshalltown,  Iowa.  

We lived downtown in a small apartment over the hatchery Daddy managed.  Other families had real houses with yards and snow, and their parents put up their own Christmas trees days before the Big Day.  But Santa always brought ours on Christmas Eve when everyone was asleep in bed.  
Well, parents knew what was best.  And that was that.  But now we were going to Grandma's house, "over the river and through the woods."  
Mama got us up early.  Six-year old Carol and I, now 8 going on 9,  were bundled up against the icy wind, and put in charge of amusing two-year old Linda.   We waited down in the car while Mother and Dad went back up stairs for another load of things.  That we waited a long time didn't matter.  We were off on our adventure.  
Too soon for us kids, it was over.  Santa came, we loved our new stuff, we ate our fill.  We had to leave the fat snowman and snow angels in grandma's big yard to the mercy of the neighbor kids. 
Finally we got back to our little apartment in Marshalltown.  When the lights were switched on we got the biggest surprise.  Santa had come!  We had our very own Christmas tree, and some oranges and tangerines were laying on a white sheet swirled around its trunk to look like snow.   
Imagine!  Two Christmas trees in one year.  Two visits from Santa!  Who had ever thought it could happen.
Daddy hugged Mama and we didn't hear their whispers.  We had our very own Christmas!  Never mind there were no presents to open.  We had oranges and tangerines.  
Moments later Mama discovered that our wonderful citrus fruit was frozen.   In those days oranges and tangerines from far off California or Florida were quite a treat in the winter.  Oh, well.  Santa had done his best.  And he didn't know how cold our apartment would get at night while we were gone, did he? 
It wasn't until years later, when I became a parent myself that I understood the strong instinct of love and sacrifice for making a child's Christmas happy.  In those days Santa got the credit, but afterwards I found out that God's love was the real reason. 

by Elaine Hardt ©1996