Daddy (HBON's daddy) grew up poor. The Great Depression didn't have a whole lot of effect on their family, because they were already too poor to notice much difference. One Christmas, Daddy ran into the living room where the children had hung up their old socks the night before; and he could tell there was something in the toe of his sock. FIlled with excitement, he ran to the sock, pulled in down, reached into the toe, and pulled out an ENTIRE orange. He was soooooo excited! A WHOLE orange that he did not have to share with anybody else. And that was Christmas that year..nothing under a tree...no big feast for lunch...just that one,beautiful orange. And in his mind...even as an adult...he would speak with a hushed voice and a grin when he would tell that story.
Now, in the overabundance that has become Christmas in America, this story may seem sad, but that was not the way HBON's father would tell the story. It was always told as if this was one of the best Christmas's of his entire life. See, in that little boy's mind, an entire orange to eat by one's self was an extravagance not to be imagined. And to receive that orange at that time was a blessing of abundance he never forgot as long as he lived on this earth. He didn't lament what he didn't have, or demand as his right something better. He recognized...well into his eighties...the sacrifice of love his parent's had made to give him that gift. He was thankful.
So as the conversation continued, we were discussing how gifts don't have to be huge to be special, and I then told HBON this story about my mother's childhood....
Momma was a fairly difficult child when she was young. She came from a broken home. Her mother was deemed mentally unfit to raise her and her sister, and at that time it was considered inappropriate for a man to raise two young girls on his own. So, my four-year-old mother and her sister were sent to live with their paternal grandparents, Papa and Grandmother. Momma was an absolute handful, and spankings, timeouts, speeches, etc. did no good. She was just too hurt to care. But Papa noticed that this little granddaughter of his loved new socks. So he made a deal with her...IF she tried to be good all week and IF she was good every Sunday in church...then she could come to town with him on town days. And IF, while Papa ran his errands, she conducted herself as a little lady, he would stop into the store on the way home and buy her a new pair of socks. This simple deal changed that little girl's behavior. At first, the reward of socks was the main motivating factor, but notice it was connected to spending the whole day with this man....observing his interactions and having one on one conversations about things great and small. As time passed, the time with Papa became her treasure. The gentle, firm guidance of this patient man eventually tamed this wild, little girl. It wasn't a big reward....not candy or a toy or an expensive something....just a day in town every so often, holding Papa's hand, and a new pair of socks at the end of the day. That is all it took to convince that little girl that she was someone special.
Out of these two stories, our stocking tradition was born. Every year we each get one orange, some socks, and one extra little gift in our stockings. One simple, yet extravagant blessing received with a thankful heart. One reminder that each of us is special to the others. And one little extra, just because. We tell the story of the orange and the story of the sock every year. And while, right now, our children sort of roll their eyes and say...Yes, we already know this story! ... one day, I hope, they will recognize the nuggets of blessings found in their family's lore. Abundant blessings.