The Christmas Orange
By Kalen Marquis
(Dedicated with love to each and every human being. May every day be Christmas!)
"That, children, is the story of The Christmas Orange, "the teacher said as he pressed the covers of the book together and smiled through gleaming, watery eyes.
The young students looked up in complete silence, the chill goose bumps still fresh on their arms and the tingles still reverberating down their young spines. Not one could break the silence.
Each was quiet and still . . . as if entranced by a magic spell or frozen by the cold, wintry breath of Mr. Jack Frost himself!
It was only the crinkling of tissue paper and the whisper of "Merry Christmas as he handed each child their own tissue-wrapped Christmas orange that broke the silence and signaled that it was time for home.
At last! It was the final day of school before the winter holidays--just two delightfully snowy days before Christmas!
* * *
That afternoon Brylee trudged home from school through the deep snow banks on the outskirts of town. She traveled alone, with her thick mop of hair tucked beneath a warm, woolen toque and her young schoolgirl head full of happy, dancing thoughts.
A black scarf was wrapped stiffly around her neck, exposing only her bubble gum lips, flushed cheeks, and eyes--eyes as dazzling and glassy as brilliant marbles!
Although the snow caked on her thin rubber boots and her feet grew numb and heavy, there was a special spring in her step-- and a soft, round Christmas orange in her pocket!
* * *
Brylee burst into her warm wooden house with tremendous excitement and glee. There, by the fire, was her beloved Gran. She was there, like always, welcoming her home.
"Guess who?" Brylee called, "Guess who?"
"Hmmm. . . now let me see . ..," replied a frail, teasing voice.
"But you can't see, Gran. You know that. You say that every time!" Brylee replied with a laugh as she swooped down to give her a gigantic hug.
"Oooh! You are a clever girl. . . and a cold one!" she said. "Now get those wet things off child and join me back here by the fire."
Brylee ’s Gran was an elderly woman with silky folds of wrinkled skin and a cheery smile despite gradually dimming eyesight. She was wrapped in woolen sweaters and only her delicate head and rounded back stood out from where she sat cradled in layers of bed clothes. She was basking in the glow of a crackling fire and Brylee could not wait to snuggle up with her.
Sitting down beside her and drawing herself up in the mound of rough patchwork quilts that skirted her precious Gran, it did not take long before she said with excitement, "You'll never guess what I have in my pocket, Gran. You'll never guess.'
"No, you won't. I'm sure you won't."
"Is it a delicious-smelling pine cone?"
"Is it an icy snowball?”
"No, it's not a snowball! Not in the house, Gran. It would melt," said Brylee, giggling.
"Well . . . what could it be? Could it be my most favourite thing of all? A secret? Oh, I bet it is! You know how I love it when you whisper in my ear."
"No, it's not a secret. It's in my pocket, Gran! For real! Do you give up? Do you?"
“Yes, dear, I give up. But first, I have a little something for you." And with that her dear old Gran leaned over, cupped her heavily knuckled fingers around her mouth, and whispered into Brylee ’s still-cool ear.
She listened intently, smiling . .. trying not to giggle as Gran’s warm, spicy breath tickled her neck. Brylee’s eyes lit up and she beamed from ear to ear.
"Okay now. . ." she said out loud. "What is it, child? What's taking you so long? Tell me! What do you have in your pocket?"
"Oh, Gran. It's a Christmas orange! One of my very own! It's just like the ones the kids at school eat. My teacher gave it to me."
"The kids at school eat them? And your teacher gave you one?"
"Yes, Gran. Yes. The kids eat them all the time. My teacher read us a story and then we all got our own soft, round Christmas orange. Isn't it fine, Gran? Isn't it?"
"Yes, my dear, it is a fine Christmas orange. Wasn't that a Christmassy thing to do."
“Yes, Gran . . . but do you know that some of the kids did not want theirs. They just left it behind or gave it away. Their very own Christmas orange! Can you believe it?
"Yes, I believe it. Most of the children in town have never known what it's like not to have a Christmas orange. They have grown up having pretty much anything they wanted. That means plenty of Christmas oranges. It's hard to appreciate things when you've always had them. Just like you, Brylee."
"Like me? But I have never had a Christmas orange, Gran. Never! This is my first one."
"I know, sweetheart. You've never had a Christmas orange . . . but there are still many things you've never had to go without."
"What kind of things?"
"Like your eyesight, Brylee. You have never had to go without your vision. You've always been able to look out and see the snow-sheeted mountains shining against a silver-blue sky . . . or catch the glimmer of the town's Christmas lights reflecting off sugar-frosted roof tops . . . or today, the beautiful, glowing colour of your very own Christmas orange."
“That's true, Gran.”
"But that’s not all, Brylee. You have never gone without your hearing. You've always been able to listen to the crackle of a winter fire dancing behind the hearth . . . or the crunch of coconut snow being rolled into jolly, fat snow people . . . or today, the gentle tearing of the stringy, cream-lined peels of your very own Christmas orange."
"Mmmm, Gran? What else?"
"You've never gone without your sense of smell. You've always been able to inhale the musky scent of a tree. . . the thick, spiced smell of gingerbread on our walks through town . . . or today, the sweet, refreshing fragrance of your very own Christmas orange.'
“That’s true. What else, Gran? Please tell me."
“You've never gone without your sense of touch. You've always been able to slide your fingers across the rough-barked trunk of a tree . . . or reach around the padded waist of your old Gran and give her a hug . . . or today, feel the cool, round, marbled softness of your very own Christmas orange."
"Oh, and taste. What about taste, Gran."?
"Oh, yes, Brylee! That’s one of the best ones. You have never gone without your sense of taste. You've always been able to sip fresh gurgling spring water from Hannon Creek . . . or roll cool, clear icicles between your lips . . . or today, taste the tangy sweetness of your very own Christmas orange."
"Yes, that’s so true! Is there more?"
"Yes dear . . . there is a whole lot more. Don't you know? "
"No, Gran. I don’t think so. There really is? "
"Why sure, sweets. Just put another log on the fire and I will tell you.”
* * *
“You're a dear, sweet girl who never complains and yet you still do not realize how lucky you are. Few of us do."
"Do you know, Brylee, that you are never without thoughts? Your amazing mind is always brimming with ideas. You think, dream and wish all kinds of dreamy, wonder-filled things—things that can only come from having a mind of your very own."
"Yes, Gran. You're right! What else?"
"Why, your feelings of course. You have all those wonderful emotions of joy, happiness and love. You have tempests of rage, shock and sorrow. You have all those mystical, magical sensations that well up and bubble inside you. Whether soft or hard, quiet or loud, they make you a human being. They make you such a wonderful you."
"Yes, Gran. Yes! It's true for all of us, isn’t it? What else?"
"Well, as if this was not enough, you already have a lifetime of memories. You have a gold-filled treasure trunk--some might say a precious photo album--of all that you have ever done.
It is a cherished collection of all that you have known, felt, thought, and wished for. It is like your own action-packed movie of all that you have seen and heard and touched and smelled and tasted--one that you share with others and yet one that only you can know."
"Oh, Gran!" Brylee cried as she hugged the old woman tight, her mind and heart overflowing with love as their shadows rocked on the wooden wall across from a now roaring fire.
* * *
The next night, Christmas Eve, Brylee kissed her parents and sleeping Gran goodnight and fell into a lightly snoring slumber. Grandma's words had filled her "to the top" and she was overflowing with more love than any Christmas stocking could hold.
Brylee slept soundly, the hand-knitted blankets up around her chin and her very own Christmas orange resting on the stone hearth near the gently glowing embers of a waning fire.
Brylee ’s orange, all soft and round and bright, stood out against the stone fireplace where she had placed it--the most obvious spot to leave a gift for Santa Claus. But just in case, underneath it was a carefully written note. It said:
This is the Christmas orange my teacher gave me.
I love you, Santa. Merry Christmas!
Oh, and Santa. . . that's not all.
I also have a secret poem from Gran.
Listen close dear Santa.
This is what she said.
I know she won't really mind--
She’s fast asleep in bed!
"Life is the greatest gift
No matter what it brings.
Appreciate all you're given
Each and every thing."
* * *
When Brylee awoke still brimming with Gran's wonder of it all on Christmas morning, there was no room full of presents and no tree skirted with packages dressed up in fancy ribbon and bows. No, there was no sign that Santa had come.
At first glance, Brylee was sure that Santa had not come. . . until she noticed that her orange and note were missing. But there--right there, beside her bed! --was one of father's big, grey socks completely stuffed . . . absolutely heaping full of fine Christmas treasures!
Spilling her treat-laden stocking onto her bed and allowing its contents to cascade out beyond her reach, Brylee found: a pair of hand-knitted mittens and a scarf, a tiny rubber ball and some jacks, some wrinkled-looking walnuts, a shiny wrapped chocolate, some hard, striped candy, . . . and there, at the bottom, all snug and round in the toe, a beautiful, bright, round Christmas orange of her very own. Brylee was ecstatic. She already had so much . . . and yet she had been given more!
"Thank you, Santa" she whispered. "Thank you."
* * *
Carefully removing the Christmas orange, Brylee thought it looked an awful lot like the one that she had left on the hearth for Santa . . . but no, it looked even brighter than the one her teacher had given her.
She wasn't sure but somehow it seemed to have its own special glow, its own special gleam--what Gran might call the "gleam of giving."
Drifting back to sleep, Brylee thought of Santa. She thought of her teacher. She thought of Gran. She thought of the Christmas orange. Most of all she thought of the magic of each and every birth and the misty-eyed celebration of life that had started that very first Christmas morn.
© 1991 Kalen Marquis