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One apple and one orange...

At the age of seven, even viewed through a veil of scepticism about the existence of Santa Claus, Christmas was a very special time for the family. There were four children, aged seven, five, four, and one - three more children would show up later on down the road. They had moved from Spanish Point two years earlier, leaving a house with an enormous front yard, or so it seemed when you are little.

A visit back there recently revealed a tiny cottage nestled on a postage stamp size lot. A big move it was, then, to a larger yard, room for chickens, rabbits, and ducks, and dogs and cats and an old, rundown house. It had one 500-gallon galvanised water tank and a hand pump for water only in the kitchen. Things were primitive, they did not care; what they did know was that only two children had to share a bedroom.

The centre of that home, the kitchen did not remotely resemble the traffic-aisle-patterns of today's gourmet havens replete with microwave, convection oven and barbecue grilletops, dishwasher, ice and coldwater refrigerators and freezers. Moreover, considerable time passed before real live running water - from a tap - replaced the hand pump. We don't know anything but conveniences now; mostly our kitchens are used for heating pre-packaged food. We are now too busy.

With many children, a home needing major renovations, a father who was self-employed and rode a pedal bicycle to work, no car, and precious little else, the dominant player (the mother) in these households became the ultimate recycling innovator. In talking to old timers of those days, it is difficult to recall in much detail what was received for Christmas, but what is remembered is that the tree was surrounded by presents. Adults went without, but every child had at least one or two to open. Many presents were made by hand, or revamped from someone else's toy box.

In that context, nothing has changed. Clothes as gifts were even then not interesting; pajamas and socks, for instance, ranked at the bottom of the list. Books, toys and games were desperately craved. During the first summer at our own home, we taught ourselves how to ride our father's bicycle, by crouching underneath the cross bar. Gripping the handlebars and balancing at an odd angle, holding on for dear life, down the hill we flew. That Christmas, outside the front door stood a child's one-speed pedal bike complete with a wicker basket. It was not new, but it was ours!

Families were generous then, as they are now, putting on huge Christmas dinners, almost always inviting someone who had no one, to sit through the brawling of noisy children while partaking of the amply basic but traditional Bermuda dishes; cassava, bread pudding, mashed potatoes and the turkey or chicken. Mostly, these strangers in such noisy company did not seem to mind the antics of overexcited children. It probably made them thankful to head home to their own serene surroundings.

Churches had long established Christmas party traditions for young and old, always held the first Sunday after Christmas. For many, this was the frosting on the cake stretching out that superb Christmasy gift feeling for a few more days.

Every child knew that they would receive a present from Santa himself, usually in a biblical book or religious theme, but the real treasure was the long-awaited red mesh stocking bag full of candy. In the toe of the bag rested one orange (no seeds), and one red, juicy red, five-dimpled apple. In a child's mind, the church presents were alright, but those stockings were wonderful. I had never seen an apple and an orange that were so perfect, all for me to eat. And not to share with anyone. Many families then could not afford this imported fruit and our family was no exception.

It was many years later, living in the land of plenty (United States) that I was able identify these amazing pieces of fruit as navel oranges and Washington State apples. We are so casual about the plethora of choices available today. Back then, little did we know that native fruit trees planted by our fathers when we were children had better, healthier, fresher more pesticide free fruit. We only wanted the store-bought kind. They looked so perfect, they must be the best.

Those Church parties lasted for a few more years, and each time the eagerly awaited stocking was given again. Then one year they just stopped, and an era was over.

Today we consider it our right to choose multiple varieties of many foods, clothing, cars, homes, jewellery, electronics, and blithely, we assume that these things will always be there. Ours for the taking.

But, what if you only had a choice of an apple, an orange, or a bag of candy? Would your lives be somehow diminished, or would you feel finally complete, living simply so that others may simply live?

Remember this holiday season there are those who do not have choices. It does not matter what is there to choose; they will not be able to have it.

The causes are many: redundancy, sickness, economic deprivation, sublimation of human rights, illiteracy, and misfortunes of war. Take the proceeds of one gift and choose to give it to someone else less fortunate. You could be the one to make the difference, in helping them to reach the same rights as the rest of us. That is having the right to choose an apple, an orange, and a Christmas meal.

Merry Christmas, dear readers.

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Published December 28, 2010 at 1:00 am (Updated December 28, 2010 at 7:54 am)

One apple and one orange...

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