It was 17 below zero yesterday in Madras. Helen tells me it hasn’t been much warmer in Nampa. So how about we take to trip in our minds to a warmer place? — like an island in the South Pacific called Guadalcanal.
Charles Duncan tells this story in the first chapter of his book, An Orange for Christmas. Charles wrote a column for the Eugene “Register-Guard” and was dean of the School of Journalism at the University of Oregon. I was fortunate to get acquainted with him in one of my earlier churches.
He told in this story of his mother, born in 1876 in Wisconsin. Charles as a young boy would hear stories about her Christmas memories. The highlight each year would be the orange each of them was given on Christmas morning. “What was so great about getting an orange for Christmas? ‘Big deal,’ I might have thought then had that all-purpose put-down phrase been in the juvenile vocabulary of the early 1920s.”
That’s when his story transitions to the Solomon Islands of the South Pacific in the middle World War II. By the time he got there, the fighting was over but it was hardly life in a tropical paradise — there were mosquitoes, scorpions, lizards, rats, mildew, jungle rot, rain, mud, and unrelenting sticky heat. The food they enjoyed was, as Charles put it, “a bad-news-good-news proposition. The bad news was that it was terrible. The good news was that there was plenty of it”. There were no fresh fruit or vegetables. The nearest supermarket was 6,000 miles away. It was a lonely, tedious, miserable existence.
Then came Christmas Day 1943. It was expected to be just like any other day. He ambled into the mess hall not expecting anything different. But then he saw a sight “as unexpected as Santa himself and his eight tiny reindeer, the more welcome for being real: fresh oranges on every table! Nice ones, too, big and solid — glowing golden orbs of juicy ecstasy.” A shipment of California navels had arrived just in time. There were enough for everyone to take some back to his hut for future enjoyment.
I’ll let Charles Duncan finish his own story: It was on that morning on the steamy banks of the Lunga River that I suddenly knew why my mother had never forgotten her Christmas orange. And that is why in the years to follow, and for as long as they dwelt under our roof, my children always found an orange in their stocking, “hung by the chimney with care,” on Christmas morning. A big one — round, solid and golden, heavy with sweet juice.