Friday, December 23, 2005

Johnny's Christmas Orange

Johnny lived in an orphanage dormitory with nine other young boys. Times were hard, especially in the wintertime when any extra money went for coal to heat the old buildings. At Christmas, each boy received only one special gift--a sweet, juicy orange. It was the only time of the year such a rare treat was provided. How the boys looked forward to that orange; it seemed to them a gift of love that brightened their dreary world for one brief moment at least. It was coveted and treasured by each of the boys like nothing else in their spare existence, not only because it was delicious to savor and enjoy, but also because of what it represented to them--"someone does care for me just a little bit."

Each boy would save his orange for several days, admiring it's bright, warm color, holding it tenderly, sniffing it's delightful fresh perfume, loving the possession of it, and contemplating the wonderful, exhilerating moment when he would slowly peel it, carefully break apart the moist segments and eat each one with the greatest of pleasure and satisfaction. Some would even save it until New Year's Day, just to remind themselves of the great joy of Christmas past and the hope of a bright and happy New Year to come.

This particular Christmas Eve, Johnny had lost his temper and punched one of the other boys. As punishment for breaking one of the orphanage's strictist rules, the Headmistriss told Johnny he would not receive his orange this year. Johnny spent Christmas Day feeling more empty and alone than he had ever felt in his unhappy young life. No orange at all for him this year, like all the other boys would have for their very own! Night came and Johnny huddled in his bed, but he was too miserable to sleep. Silently and feeling cold and all alone inside, he sobbed helplessly into his pillow.

Johnny was startled when he felt a small, soft hand on his shoulder. Something was quickly shoved into his hand, and then the visitor disappeared into the darkness. Johnny looked down and could just make out an object wrapped in an old piece of cloth. As he unwrapped this odd gift, he was amazed to discover that he held a rather strange looking orange made from the combined segments of nine other oranges...nine other highly prized oranges that were not saved, admired and cherished for many days, but were eaten that night so that Johnny might have a happy and blessed Christmas, too, in the knowledge that he was not alone.

May Johnny's Christmas orange remind us of the message of unselfish love and caring for the needs of others which, when lived by each of us, makes our world a better place for all to live in.

(I received a shorter version of this story in a letter, and re-wrote and edited it for this post. I don't know where it originated.)

Friday, December 16, 2005

John Payne is always remembered around the Christmas season because of his role as the leading man--the lawyer who defends Kris Kringle--in the holiday classic film, Miracle On 34th Street. Payne grew up in the area of Virginia I live in; his ashes were returned and scattered here following his death in California in 1989. And I now have in my home the large, heavy cast-iron fireplace grate that came out of the colonial mansion he lived in while growing up here.
We use it as a cat's bed; with padding, cushions and a spread it's just the right size for any one of our three cats to curl up in comfortably.
John Payne attended local schools and college here before heading to New York during the Depression to support himself boxing while pursuing an acting career. After moving on to Hollywood, he often appeared in musicals with Betty Grable and Alice Faye, as well as westerns and action films. He read the original Miracle On 34th Street story in a magazine and encouraged his studio to buy it and make it into the movie that has since become timeless holiday fare.
And about the fireplace grate: Payne's family homeplace here was lost to a fire in 1948 (long after he had gone on with his career). The parents of a good friend of mine were driving past the site one day and spotted this grate, saved from the fire, on the lawn of the former mansion. They asked if they could buy it, and did. It remained in their home for decades, was inherited by my friend about 15 years ago and, when he sold his house this year, he gave it to me--and the cats!