This I Believe

Dale - Springfield, Ohio
Entered on February 7, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: gratitude


I believe in the taste of orange.

What does that mean? Well, every year I eat an orange on Christmas Day.

That might not seem so startling. After all, about all you can do with an orange is eat it. Which is exactly what I do, unless I can spot a politician or a Steelers fan within throwing range or something.

But why an orange on Christmas? Well, that comes from a long-time friend of mine, a very successful businesswoman, who came to America from Germany when she was about 13 years old.

Her family, consisting of her mother, father, and umpteen brothers and sisters, were peasants who endured great hardship in the years immediately after World War II.

If you’re a peasant, even when times are good, you probably have it pretty tough, and times then were anything but good for the average German. Just living from day to day was a challenge, and starvation was a stark shadow that hovered constantly over their lives.

My friend told me how her parents ached for their children to have it better, somehow. How they miraculously found a way for her and one of her younger sisters to come to America. How the two children came over on a big boat, clinging to each other in fear. How they arrived in America, to be met by kindly strangers, themselves German immigrants, who would take them in and raise them as their own.

She also told me of her visit that first day to a supermarket, the first she had ever seen.

She tells it best, in hushed tones, with a sense of wonder: “I just couldn’t believe it. Everywhere I looked, there was food. All the food I wanted. All I had to do was reach out and there it was. I kneeled down right there in the store and cried my eyes out. Think of it! All the food I could eat! America was heaven to me. It still is.”

She claims to have eaten at least one bunch of bananas every day for a month. For a long time, she thought surely the food would run out.

And the orange? That comes from a story she told about what it had been like at home with Mama and Papa on Christmas, in those years of heartbreaking, humbling poverty. “For Christmas, we would get an orange”, she said. “Not an orange apiece, but one orange for us all. And Mama would give us each a little wedge of it, with the peel still on it. Now, you wouldn’t eat it right away, but hold it, and smell it, and compare it to that of your brothers and sisters, and claim you had the biggest, even if you didn’t. And that night, maybe, you would eat it. And you would keep the peel, when you went to bed,

and hold it to your nose, there in the dark, and sniff it, and savor the smell. And you would fall asleep, dreaming of oranges, and other fruits, and foods of all kinds.

“It is heaven, this America. Too many don’t realize how wonderful, what a miracle, their lives here are. But I never forget. Never.”

It was years and years ago, when she told me that story. And maybe now you understand why, ever since then, I have made it a point to eat an orange on Christmas Day. And why I will eat one this year, as well.

In fact, I believe I will go to the refrigerator and get an orange right now. But I’m going to hold it in my hand for a while first.

And I just may cry when I smell it.