TIMBO’S CHRISTMAS ORANGE
Way back in the in the early 1800s, in the small country town of Dexter, a fourteen year old boy named Timothy Bob Adams lived in an orphanage with twenty other children ranging in ages from six to fourteen. In those days, living in an orphanage was like being incarcerated because the facilities were dark, damp and dreary, the children never had visitors and they were never allowed to leave the premises. It was a place to be dreaded, even feared, because the treatment of the orphans was harsh and heartless. To be an orphan in Dexter, indeed, was to be unwanted and unloved. The children in the orphanage lived without dreams or hope of a better life.
The orphanage was administered by Master Maxwell Bleak and his wife Willameana. Although they had overseen the orphanage for twenty years, they had no compassion whatsoever for children and absolutely no tolerance for what they called “foolish child play.” Their discipline was so strict that it bordered cruelty. There was always harsh punishment for misbehavior, but never praise or rewards for good behavior. To Master Bleak and Willameana, administering the orphanage was merely a job that provided income, nothing more. No love, no understanding, no expression of kindness.
At the orphanage, every day of the year was spent working from sunrise to sunset. The children tended the gardens which was their main source of food, planting seeds, hoeing weeds, and picking produce. They had to do all of the cleaning. They scrubbed the warped wooden floors, the steep creaking stairs, the dreary dormitory where they slept, and the kitchen pots and pans. For their efforts, the orphans received one meal a day.
Now Timothy Bob Adams, nicknamed Timbo by the other children, had absolutely nothing to call his own. None of the children did. Once in a while Timbo was able to salvage an old rag, tie a knot in it to simulate the head of a doll, and give it to one of the small girls. Sometimes he would sneak a perfectly round pebble from the garden and place it in a small boy’s hand to play marbles with. Of course, this was all done when Master Bleak wasn’t looking, which was rare, because he always kept a very close eye on the children. Nothing escaped him and the children knew it. They lived in fear of his rage and harsh punishment.
There was only one day in the year when the orphans did not work. Timbo had been in the orphanage long enough to look forward with great delight and anticipation to that special day, which was Christmas. On that day each child received a gift, the one time of the year when they all received something that they could actually call their own. This much anticipated special gift was an orange, a single orange. The twenty-one oranges were donated to the orphanage by the Mayor of Dexter and his staff, and the Bleaks reluctantly distributed the oranges to the children.
To the children who were used to toiling in dirt and grime every other day of the year, the aroma of oranges that drifted through the orphanage on Christmas day thoroughly delighted them. They prized their oranges so much that they often kept them for days, weeks, even months–protecting them, smelling them, touching them, and loving them. Sometimes they tried to savor and preserve them for so long that the oranges would rot before they could peel them and enjoy the sweet juice inside. The children would often say, “I will keep mine the longest this year.” All year long the one thing they constantly talked about and the only thing they had to look forward to was Christmas day, the day they would get their orange.
Now, Timbo always took great care of his orange, holding it tenderly and carefully so as not to bruise it. He usually slept with it. He would place it close to his nose to smell its goodness all night long. It gave him a sense of security and well-being. It helped him feel connected to the outside world and he wondered what it would be like to wake up on Christmas morning and have a Christmas tree with gifts under it and later enjoy a warm Christmas meal with family and friends.
One year, Timbo was overjoyed by the Christmas season. He felt like he was becoming an adult. He was growing taller and stronger. His voice was becoming deep and resonant. Soon he would be old enough to leave the orphanage. Thus, he was unusually excited about Christmas and this year he was determined to save his orange, knowing that he if he preserved it very carefully, kept it cool as possible and not drop it, he would be able to eat it on his fifteenth birthday in February.
Christmas Day finally came. The children were so excited. As Timbo entered the dining hall, he could smell cooked meat, a luxury he had enjoyed only a few times in his lifetime. In his excitement and because of his oversized feet, Timbo tripped, causing a disturbance.
Immediately the wicked Master Bleak, his eyes filled with rage, grabbed Timbo by the collar and he roared, “Timbo, leave the hall! And there will be no orange for you this year. And you will be assigned extra hard duties to perform.”
Timbo’s heart broke and he began to cry. He didn’t want the small children to see his anguish so he turned and ran swiftly back to his dormitory room and crawled into a dark, cold corner. He was in despair for there was now nothing for him to look forward to. He was happy for the other children because he knew how much an orange meant to them, but he was brokenhearted for himself. He wondered how he could possibly make it through another year in this dreary orphanage.
Sitting in the darkness, feeling alone and forlorn, he was startled when the door to the dormitory opened. He didn’t look up because he feared it was Master Bleak coming to give him a lecture and punish him.
To his surprise, the voice of a little girl called his name. “Timbo, are you here?” she said.
Timbo looked up and saw sweet, little Mary Elizabeth, hardly more than six years old, with her straggly hair falling over her shoulders, a smile on her face, and tears in her eyes.
“I’m here, Mary Elizabeth,” Timbo said. “What do you want? You mustn’t tarry in here or Master Bleak will come and punish you.”
Mary Elizabeth held out a piece of rag to Timbo. “Here,” she said. “This is for you.” She handed him the rag that was folded into a ball shape and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Merry Christmas,” she whispered, then turned and hurried out the door.
Timbo carefully pulled back the edges of the rag and there before his eyes was what appeared to be a large orange, all peeled and in pieces. He took a closer look at the gift in his hand and realized what the children had done. They had peeled their oranges and by each giving one section of their orange they had created one big beautiful, juicy orange for Timbo. Tears again flowed from Timbo’s eyes, but this time they were tears of joy. It was the most wonderful gift he had ever received and it was the best Christmas he ever had. He would always remember it.
After he grew to manhood and left the orphanage, Timothy Bob Adams became very successful and quite wealthy. But he never forgot that wonderful, delicious orange that was sacrificially assembled for him years earlier by the children at the orphanage. He never forgot their love and kindness and the risk they took in doing what they did. It made him realize that the real meaning of Christmas was more about giving than receiving. It was about sharing what you have with others, no matter how small.
Every year Timbo showed his gratitude for what others had done for him by sending oranges all over the world to orphanages everywhere. His desire was that no child should ever experience Christmas without receiving at least one gift. And the best gift he could think of giving was an orange…..a sweet, delicious orange, filled with the wonderful aroma of Christmas.
(This story is based on an old, old story by an unknown author, revised for verbal storytelling by Chuck Lee).