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Disclaimer: The story and characters are mine.

The Tale of the Oranges



"Merry Christmas, Jane," Grandma said to her 9-year-old granddaughter as they sat by the cozy fire one cold evening, the grandmother in her rocking chair and her granddaughter on the rug in front of the hearth. Behind her glasses, Grandma's silvery blue eyes twinkled like they did each year when her granddaughter dug around in the stocking. The girl pulled out a spherical object, and then she pulled a face.

"Awwwwww, Grandma! An orange again? Why is there always an orange in my stocking?"

Grandma just laughed at Jane's complaint, then said seriously, "Some traditions are really hard to break, honey. Do you know what a tradition is?" Jane shook her head. Her grandmother continued, "It's something that starts once and is done over and over again. Celebrating your birthday is an example of a tradition. We celebrated the day you were born and we celebrate on that same day each year, don't we?" Jane nodded. "Well, honey, some families have their own traditions. Ours is getting an orange in our stocking every Christmas."

"Why?" Jane asked.

"I was just getting to that. Do you know when it started?"

"No." Jane sensed her grandmother was about to tell her a story. She plumped up the cushions that were on the rug with her and settled in.

"Well, Jane, it started with my great grandmother who was from England. Her father was a sort of country squire and he worked as a solicitor, or what we'd call a lawyer. A few times a year, he'd get his horses and his carriage ready - this was way before the days of the automobile - and he'd go to the big town to do business for his clients. This big town was old and beautiful with a humongous castle in the middle. The sea bordered one side of the town and a large park bordered the other side. The main road to town was a dirt road, of course, and trees lined it. There were also paths near the roadside where people could take a long walk or even find a nice picnic spot someplace."

"That doesn't sound like a whole lot of fun."

"But it was. That's what they did in days before television, computers, and video games. Anyway, her father always brought back dolls or some other trinkets he would find at the port. When he went into town one autumn, though, he had a brilliant idea and was very pleased with himself. He set up a surprise for his family for Christmas since he knew he'd be back in town before then and could pick up what he ordered."

"What was his surprise?" Jane asked eagerly.

"What have we been talking about?" Grandma asked with a big smile on her face.


"Yes! There weren't any planes or anything to get things somewhere else quickly, and there certainly weren't any special refrigeration trucks or ships. Even if you could get something, like oranges, chances were it wouldn't arrive in very good shape, unlike today. Oranges could only grow in warm climates and were particularly unsuited to England, so my great-great grandfather had to send away for them."

"C'mon, Grandma. How'd they look when they arrived?"

"I'm getting there. So, my great-great grandpa went to pick them up and found that they weren't fresh, of course, but they were still okay. He took them home, and on Christmas Day that year, he brought them in from outside to give to the family. They were very surprised and delighted because an orange, even if it wasn't very fresh, was as valuable as gold. My great grandmother never forgot that day and I still have a letter of hers where she said how cold, juicy, and sweet they were and that she'd never had a better orange since then. Her father got oranges for the family at Christmas every year after that, and then my great-grandmother gave them to my grandmother for Christmas. She gave them to my mother, who gave them to me. I gave them to your mom when she was little, and now I give them to you."

Jane's eyes were as wide as saucers. "That's a long time!"

"Yes. Traditions usually go back a ways. I think the most important thing to remember as you get older, though, is not the tradition itself, but always, always remember who gave the oranges to you."

"I will," Jane said very importantly.

"Promise?" her grandmother asked solemnly. But she couldn't keep a straight face for long and broke out into another huge smile.

Still, Jane was serious. "Promise."


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