TALES OF THE NORTH: Oranges for Christmas

Fresh Clementines or Tangerines in the Basket on Brown Wooden Table with Xmas Lights and Tree Branches, banner
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The farm I was raised on was 14 miles from a small town known as Pine River.

It was the middle of the Depression, and our government was trying to support the folks throughout our country as best they could. There was a government program underway to get fresh fruit to families.

The radio – our only way of getting any information – was broadcasting that there would be free oranges available in Pine River.

My mom jumped up hugged my dad and whispered in his ear, “You must go and get some. It will be our only Christmas.”

Dad kissed her, then slowly put on his coat. I remember that coat. It made him look like a big bear. He had a raccoon hat with big ears flaps, then came his big boots. He moved slowly, like this was something he didn’t want to do, then he was out the door and soon lost in the snow, which we had a lot of.


Dad had to make the long, 28-mile round trip with just a horse and sleigh.

Yes, we had a car, a ‘29 Model A Coupe, but the roads were not plowed. In those days, we were lucky to have a road.

So, that horse and sleigh and my dad were our only chance that we would have a Christmas.

I, my mother, three brothers and our dog all stood close together by the door and watched Dad, that sleigh and that horse slowly fade out of sight into the misty snow.

We all stood there wondering, as children often do. Will we ever see our dad again? An empty hole slowly crept into my stomach, it soon passed, and I went back to just being a boy, which is a full-time job.

We had no TV, no cell phones or iPads, so as boys, we had to find things to do, the old-fashioned way.

I call our farm “a rock farm” – we had more rocks than crops. My dad would pick all those rocks up and put them on a sled called a go-devil. A go-devil is a large slide with log runners. He then piled them in big piles. In those rocks lived critters. Boys love critters. Making a long story short, being boys, we showed up in the front yard with a skunk in each hand, holding each one by the tail.

My mother almost passed out! We dropped the skunks at my mother’s command. She striped us, buried our clothes and scrubbed us down with tomato juice – homemade, of course. We were not allowed in the house for a week.


Back to my father on that horrible trip. We expected him back the next day, Christmas Eve, but the day came and passed and no Dad.

Early the next morning, we heard my dad’s voice. Yelling, “Dad is home,” all my brothers were running and stumbling all over each other trying to get to the kitchen.

After hugging my dad to death, we were so glad to see him. There in the middle of the kitchen floor was a magnificent crate of oranges. That may not sound like much to you, but to us, it was the feast of a lifetime. My brothers and I were enjoying our fabulous Christmas.

My mother looked up at my dad. Yes, she was setting on the floor with us. “Set down here and have an orange. You earned it.”

My dad just stood there. It seemed like a long time, then he softly said, “I will stand in line for my kids, but I won’t eat it.”

See you next time, with more “Tales of the North.”

A storyteller, John Zentz, 87, will share a blend of fact and fiction in his bimonthly column. Some tales he’s lived through, some he’s been told. Zentz and his family are longtime Hubbard County residents. He has a picture of his grandmother and grandfather, seven times removed, sitting on a porch in Park Rapids.


John Zentz

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