Each year I invite my students to my home for a Christmas party, an event we all look forward to and enjoy. Since I’m always looking for new ways to motivate my students to write, I told them this year the price of admission was a short original Christmas story. They groaned and complained, but they came…story in hand. What a joy it was to gather in the living room after we finished our meal and listen to stories of Christmases long ago.
The story below was written by a student in her 90s, Gene Hensley, a gifted writer who has published several of her fine pieces. This story captures a Depression-era Christmas, when times were tough and gifts were few. My mother has told me about childhood Christmases when she exulted in finding a fresh orange in her stocking—a real treasure in those times. Gene Hensley had a similar experience. I believe our senses become heightened when we have little, and we take delight in little things we may not notice or value otherwise. Watch how Gene helps us see and smell and taste that precious orange she cradled in her hands 75 years ago.
by Gene Hensley
It was Christmas Eve of 1932 or 1933 when a wooden crate of oranges was delivered to our front porch at Wink, Texas. It came all the way from Los Angeles, California, a gift from our sister Dixie. I was fourteen or fifteen, Papa had abandoned Mama, and we five kids and Mamma hadmoved to Wink so Mama and I could support the family from my dancing school.
There are four distinct seasons in West Texas and there was little fruit in the winter. At that time, all mail traveled by train. Our oranges might have been one of its first shipments of perishable fruit. The country was in the middle of the Great Depression and there was never money for luxuries. In fact, my dance lessons were a bartering tool so we could have milk, bread, dental work, and other basic necessities for the family.
There were few gifts under our Christmas tree. Even the tree was barter with Mr. Burnside at the grocery store. Mama got a chicken because it was cheaper than a turkey. So these oranges were a true luxury. I still remember how beautiful they were.
We didn’t even take them out of the crate. We just brought them into the house and put them under the tree. And the warmth of the house began to bring out their wonderful aroma. I remember holding the first one in my hand and putting my nails into the peel to make it burst with zest so the fragrance permeated all over my room. I saved the peel in bits and pieces, and long after it was eaten, when I opened my drawers or closet or at night when I laid my head on the pillow I would re-visit that wonderful fruit
When I think of that first Christmas in Wink, I don’t see hardships of the nation and our family. I see those oranges.
Have you written about your childhood Christmases? What special memories do you have? What decorations or foods do you remember? Was there a gift you especially wanted one year? Did you ever open a present beforehand? How were Christmases celebrated in hard times? What did your parents do to make the holidays memorable for you? Write about those times. It’s important they aren’t forgotten.