Diane Prather: An apple and an orange for Christmas

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Diane Prather

Diane Prather's columns appear in the Craig Daily Press and Saturday Morning Press. You can call her at 824-8809.

Among others, these are items that Santa might find on a child's want list in 2008: video games and a game console, CD player and CDs, computer, cell phone, high-definition TV and a DVD player.

Compare the items with those that might have been found on a want list when this author was a child: doll, sled, Tonka truck and a farm set with a barn and animals.

And whether we kids put them on a list for Santa, we always counted on three other items: candy, an orange and an apple. These were things that today's kids get all the time, but we didn't.

I grew up on our ranch on Morapos Creek, south of Hamilton. We were a few miles from the Hamilton Store, a country store owned by our Uncle Albert Ottens, and 23 miles from Craig. In those days, we didn't go shopping several times a week (as it sometimes seems that I do), even in summer, but much less in winter.

Some years the snow started falling in November, and by December we had feet. We kids started to worry that Santa might not be able to reach our house by Christmas (and our parents may have worried about the same thing). So there weren't many days to shop.

Although our family had lots and lots of canned fruits and vegetables to get us through the winter, we didn't have much fresh fruit and vegetables. We had some orchard apples that Mom usually canned, but any apples that escaped being canned weren't the Delicious eating type. We certainly didn't have any oranges. So that's why apples and oranges were so precious. (We didn't have much "store-bought" candy, either.)

And that's where the school Christmas program comes in.

Preparation for the community Christmas program at the Morapos School started before Thanksgiving, but after the holiday most seat work involving reading, writing, arithmetic and history was set aside so we could get ready for the program.

In those days, the school Christmas program was a big community affair, so the teacher and students wanted everything to be just right. Some of my fondest memories of Christmas came from those preparations.

We put up a stage with curtains that opened and closed and had hidden off-stage areas to the left and right. A parent brought in a freshly cut evergreen tree. The students got out a box marked "Christmas," and we decorated the tree with a few glass ornaments and garland. We strung popcorn and cranberries and made paper chains. We even hung Christmas cut-outs on the walls.

I've decorated lots of trees since then, but the wonderful fragrance of the school tree has never been equaled anywhere.

The fragrance of the tree, the program practice, the anticipation of having our parents watch us perform, the magic of that curtained stage - what excitement it brought!

Finally, the big night arrived. My sisters and I wore new taffeta dresses that Mom sewed for us. After we sang songs, recited poems, and acted in one or more plays, it was time for a small gift exchange and to get treat bags. (They were sometimes handed out by a Santa.)

I believe that the school parents (and perhaps others) donated money for the contents of the treat bags. Our Uncle Albert ordered everything, and then the school mothers got together and put the treat bags together.

The bottom part of each bag was filled with nuts, mostly peanuts in their shells. (I must admit that even though we kids were grateful for the nuts, we wished there had been less of those, and more of the candy.)

The candy followed the nuts. Most of it was hard candy, like ribbon candy and candies with soft centers, but there were also orange slices and some chocolate-covered candies with soft centers, perhaps coconut.

Sometimes there was a small popcorn ball wrapped in red or green cellophane. But at the very top of each bag was a big orange and sometimes a big, juicy apple, too. What a wonderful gift!

On Christmas Eve, my sisters and I found the biggest socks possible to hang up for Santa's treats. On Christmas morning we found oranges and apples in them, too.

It seems that it was but just a blink of the eye before I had children of my own. When our sons started hanging up their stockings, I made sure that each of their stockings had an apple and orange in it on Christmas morning. I asked them to never forget how precious a seemingly small gift can be.

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