It’s winter and oranges are cheap and sweet. Take out the cutting board and a sharp knife. Slice off each end of the orange. Cut lines into the skin all the way round. Peel off each of the sections. Cut the orange into 2cm cubes. Eat with fingers or a fork.
It’s hard to believe that these little balls of sunshine are winter fruit.
After a week of rain, summer is on my mind. But the solstice has just gone and as the old saying goes: as the days grow longer, the cold gets stronger. And so I eat oranges and wait for the seasons to change and the rain to end. And I populate my mind with words like tenacity, resilience, persistence, patience: winter words. And I like to do winter things, like curl up on the couch and read books; books filled with heroes and heroines that display the above characteristics.
And I eat oranges, off a plate, with a fork. I like my food cut up neat so that it’s easier to eat. I remember my father cutting oranges up like this for me when I was little. And I remember eating an orange as I read I am David, and being delighted that oranges saved David’s life.
This novel isset in WWII and is about a twelve year old boy who escapes the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp. He travels south through winter for many weeks, to get away. The book ends with his arrival in Southern Italy, where he comes upon a grove of oranges in an orchard covered in snow. He is at the point of starvation and he feasts on the oranges and they sustain him for what lies ahead.
At least that’s how I remember it.
I went to my local library and braved the downstairs children’s section to borrow I am David. It was remarkably clean, as was the children’s library. I had expected it to have years of sticky fingers all over it.And so I sat down on a rainy afternoon with an orange, quite excited about rereading one of my favourite childhood books.
And there the disappointments begin. Not to mention the fear. Not of the Nazi’s, or sticky children’s libraries, but of what else I might remember that is actually nothing like the reality. Let me explain.
As I began reading I realized that not only is the book not set in WWII but David doesn’t escape from a Nazi concentration camp; although he is twelve and there are definitely horrors in the camp. But that’s probably generic to concentration camps. The novel is set in the 1950’s. And it’s communism in Eastern Europe, and some sort of gulag, that he’s escaping from.
And I have no memory whatsoever of the racism and propaganda that the book is littered with. Probably because when you grow up in 1970’s South Africa you can’t afford to think about racism, or propaganda.
For example, David’s aim is to get to a country with a king; because those countries are safe and look after their citizens. And all the Italians that he meets, laugh all the time; but all the Swiss are dour, one of them even locks him up in a barn for the rest of winter. And all the English are serious, but concerned about children wandering around alone, claiming they are travelling north to join the circus. But the worst disappointment of all is the oranges. Yes a starving boy comes upon a grove of oranges in winter in Italy, but where is the snow?
So now I feel compelled to reread all of my other favourite childhood books. I need to find out if Scamper the dog was really fed ice cream by the Secret Seven. And did the children in the Famous Five get given all those cakes and jellies and cream and custard by their mother when they got home from an adventure? Or were they just given admonitions not to fill their tummies with sweets before dinner, like I was. Perhaps my childhood was not so different from that of the little horrors, I mean little heroes, in these stories.
Now that I think about it, maybe Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew just imagined catching criminals and solving mysteries, while actually sitting in their bedrooms doing their homework . After all that’s what I was doing. And as for Little House on the Prairie, maybe if I reread it, I might get over my fixation with the fantasy of a little house on a few acres, where I can have chickens and grow my own food; and just be happy with my life in a little apartment in a city, where I can go to the supermarket and eat in a restaurant.
Hopefully this winter rain will last long enough for me to find out.