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Orange You Glad it’s Christmas?

Did Old Saint Nicholas leave nuts, peppermint sticks, and oranges in your stocking on Christmas Eve?  Looking back, I used to think that was the strangest gift to leave a kid.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, just knowing Santa had filled those stockings always made it fun and exciting to empty them on Christmas morning, and I loved eating everything in there, but why nuts?  Why oranges?  It just seemed like an odd choice.  I mean, if you’re going to put food in my stocking, then how about some Christmas cookies and fudge?  Come on, Santa!

A Visit From Santa

As I grew older, I reasoned that maybe that’s what my parents got in their stockings when they were kids, so it was part of their Christmas tradition, one that brought them joy and happiness, an experience they wished to share with their children.  My parents were born in 1935 and lived in the rural foothills of South Carolina.  Things like oranges, Brazil nuts, and peppermint sticks were real treats back then.  They were in fact, a rarity.  Think about that and let it sink in.

Checking His List

As I recently called up some of these fond memories, I decided to do a little research, so I consulted professor Google and I discovered that oranges in Christmas stockings is a tradition that lives on even today!  I also discovered a charming little story behind the tradition.

Coke Santa

St. Nicholas was born in what is now present-day Turkey.  He inherited a large sum of money and devoted his life to helping others, and eventually became a bishop.  As the story goes, St. Nicholas heard of a poor man who could not find suitors for his three daughters because he had no money for a dowery.  St. Nicholas visited the poor man one night and tossed three small sacks of gold down the poor man’s chimney.  His daughters had stockings hanging by the fire to dry and the sacks of gold just happened to fall into the stockings.  The oranges left in stockings today are a symbol of the gold that St. Nicholas left in the stockings for those three girls.

Pepsi Santa

It’s a charming story and whether true or not, I’m inclined to believe that during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, oranges were a scarce fruit, especially in the north, and with many families stretched thin and financially strapped, finding an orange, a few Brazil nuts, and maybe a peppermint stick in your stocking was a luxurious treat. 

Another Coke Santa

Take stock of what God has blessed you with this Christmas season and be sure to share your good fortune with those in need.  Remember the poor, the sick, and the shut-in.  Remember those that are hurting, those that are lonely, those that are afflicted and suffering.  But most importantly, remember the lost and what Christmas is all about…

Nativity

And there were in the same country Shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.  And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”     ~Linus Van Pelt

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Roost Behind the Moon

As flour is than main ingredient in bread, chickens are the main ingredient in any farm or homestead.  Easy to care for, they provide eggs and meat for our table and endless hours of pleasure and enjoyment.  Let’s start with eggs.  Scrambled eggs, fried eggs, sunny side up eggs.  Deviled eggs, Easter eggs, hard-boiled pickled eggs.  These are so many ways to prepare an egg, not to mention they are also used in many recipes for cakes and casseroles.

Rooster, Hens, and Chicks

How about the chicken, also known as the Baptist Bird?  Well, at the top of the list is fried chicken, of course, but whether you fry it, bake it, roast it, boil it, or grill it, chicken is a main staple on any farm table, especially for Sunday dinner.  Think of all the delicious parts.  Breasts, legs, thighs, and wings.  I prefer dark meat myself, so I always reach for a leg and a thigh.  But there are a few other parts, not quite as popular, but every bit as tasty.  Necks, hearts, gizzards, and livers.  I absolutely love fried chicken livers.  Give me a bowl of fried chicken livers, a bottle of Texas Pete hot sauce, and an ice-cold Coke and I’ve got a meal that would look proud sitting beside any Texas-sized T-bone steak. 

Chickens and Flowers

Add a rooster to your flock and now you have a sustainable flock (and an alarm clock).  In the spring and summer, you will be able to enjoy watching a mother hen clucking to her clutch of babies, scratching in the dirt, teaching them how to look for food.  Nothing is sweeter or more precious than a fuzzy baby chick.  You can NOT hold a baby chick and NOT smile.  It is good medicine for the soul.

Chickens and Wagon

Years ago, I guess back in the depression years, chickens were often stolen.  Snuffy Smith, a hillbilly character in our Sunday comics is often depicted running from the Sheriff with a chicken in his sack.  It was such a problem, even songs were written about chicken thievery.  Below is one of my favorites.

Roost Behind the Moon

Boy, did you ever do anything like stealing chickens?

Oh chicken, oh chicken, you may go up in a balloon

Chicken, chicken, you may hide behind the moon, doggone you now

Chicken, I never let a fowl be

Ten thousand dollar warrant for the fowl on earth, he don’t roost too high for me

I got to thinking ‘bout chicken, late the other night, man, I couldn’t hardly rest

I jumped out the bed, grabbed up my old shoes, thought of where some chicken was at

I grabbed big buffcoat, stuck him under my arm, something I never let fall

I don’t think I’ve robbed your henhouse til I get your roost, poor chicken and all

Chorus

Ah that chicken made me awful mad the other night, man, that’s something I didn’t like to take

I grabbed my little haversack and down across my back, grabbed the chicken right by the neck

Said I turned around, quick as I could, a chicken hauled away I declare

I won’t steal meat and bread outta the cook’s pot, I’ll steal a chicken from anywhere

Chorus

Ah that police arrest me last Friday night, you couldn’t think of what’s it about

I’m going down the alley where I lived at, a lot of chicken tied in my house

I say, you may carry me to the pen’tentiary wall, I’ll go to work out my time

And just as quick you put me on the L&N track, I’ll have chickens on my mind

Chorus

“Steal a chicken if you get a chance, Huck, because if you don’t want it, someone else does and a good deed ain’t never forgotten.” ~ Mark Twain

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Get Wood!

There is an old saying that firewood heats you twice.  If you’ve never heated with wood before, spend a day cutting, splitting, and stacking firewood and you’ll fully understand the meaning of that phrase.  My parents grew up in an age before central heat and air.  In the cold winter months, you burned wood to stay warm.  In the hot and humid summer months, you kept the windows open and prayed for a breeze to stay cool, especially at night when you were trying to sleep.  

When I was a child, we lived in a nice home with an oil furnace that heated the entire house, but my parents bought a Buck Stove fireplace insert and used that to heat with wood in order to save money.  They were both from a generation that was taught to be frugal, work hard, and save.  My mom loved a cozy fire though.  Often, she would open the doors of the stove and sit on the hearth near the flames.  Nothing heats like fire either.  It is a warm, dry, radiant heat that warms you to the bone.  Aside from the warmth, the fire also tickles your other senses.  You can hear the flames crackle and pop.  You can smell the split, seasoned oak along with the woodsmoke wafting up the chimney flue.  Lastly, you can watch the embers glimmering below the logs while the flames dance merrily on top.  If it’s nighttime, turn the lights out and enjoy the orange glow from the fire and the flickering shadows the flames cast upon the walls.  All wonderful, right?  Well, yes, but until I was eight years old, I thought my name was Get Wood. 

Cozy Hearth

Nothing in life is free and there is a cost for enjoying the simple pleasures of a fire on the hearth.  I remember many Saturday mornings when my Dad would be outside before the sun came up, patiently sharpening his chainsaw.  We’d be in the woods right when the sky began to turn gray with dawn and my Dad would crank that chainsaw and start felling trees.  I remember sitting in the truck and praying that just once that saw would not crank, but it was a Stihl and it cranked faithfully.  Every time.  Anyhow, Dad would cut for a little while and then I would get out and start loading the truck.  I could not throw the wood into the truck, I had to stack it in the truck so that we could haul as much as possible.  I also had to pile all the brush up too.  Once the front end of the truck was high in the air and the tail end of the truck was sitting on the rear axle, Dad would declare that we had a full load and we would pack it in and head home.

Think that was the end of my day?  Oh heck no.  Dad would pull the truck around to the woodshed and then he was off to work on some other job.  My job was to unload the truck, split the wood, and then stack it in the woodshed.  It was hard work, but I enjoyed it.  There is something satisfying about splitting a log with one swing of the maul.  There is also something very satisfying about seeing a neat stack of firewood in the woodshed and knowing that you did that! 

Fast forward many years.  Mom and Dad grew older and eventually put in central heat and air.  Their home is now heated with propane, but I carried on the tradition for many years after I married.  My wife and I heated our home with an indoor Fisher Mama Bear wood stove.  I remember many evenings; we’d come home from work to a freezing house.  I’d build a fire in the stove and we’d stand on each side of the stove waiting for it to warm up.  Neither of us ever thought of it as “hard times”.  We talked about many things around that stove.  We were both young and full of dreams and it was a happy time in our lives.

As we grew older, our family grew and so did our house.  One indoor wood burning stove was not enough to heat it evenly, so we added another and it did not take long for me to realize that maintaining two indoor woodburning stoves was impractical (and a heck of a lot of work too).  I had to get up every morning around 2:00 AM to put more wood in the stoves and that got old fast.  The solution?  A Hardy outdoor wood burning boiler furnace!  Yep.  We bought one and heated with it for another 15 years.  It kept the house warm and toasty and it heated our water too.  We never ran out of hot water.  I saved a good bit of money burning wood because out in the country where we lived there were only three options for heat: wood, propane, and electricity.  The cost of propane would fluctuate wildly, from reasonable to unaffordable, but never cheap.  The cost of electricity was stable, but it was also high.  The Hardy stove boasted a 24 hour burn time, but I had to load wood in it twice a day – once in the morning before work, and once in the evening before bed.  At least I was getting to sleep through the night now, but the Hardy was a hungry beast with an appetite for wood that could never be sated.  In the cold months, I burned a full-sized pickup load of firewood every week.  Toward the end, I was so sick of cutting wood and splitting wood that I started buying wood and that was even more expensive than the propane or electricity.  We finally sold the Hardy, or as I called it, The Beast.  Some poor sucker is feeding it now and thinking they are saving a ton of money.  Want to know how much I saved burning firewood?  Maybe enough to pay for the surgery to fix my thumbs where picking up logs over the course of years has worn the cartilage away to nothing. 

We still have our indoor wood burning stoves and a fireplace too.  I keep one truckload of seasoned wood in the woodshed for emergencies such as power outages and ice storms, but now, when I’m cold I roll up my sleeves, crack my knuckles, and tap that thermostat until my heat pump kicks on. 

Wood Burning Stove

“Before enlightenment; Chop wood, carry water.

After enlightenment; Chop wood, carry water.”

~Zen Koan