Just (an) Orange in my Stocking
Sunrises in Wisconsin don’t depend on snow for brilliance. Instead it’s the angle of light responsible for very vibrant bursts. Crisp and cold, December glows orange. During daylight hours, orange floats over the tops of heads in the form of knit beanie caps dyed the required hunting color. I don’t hunt, but tangy orange sticks to my suggestion of Mandarin chicken instead of ham for Christmas Eve dinner. Its spice snaps my often struggling Jewish identity to life along with menorahs and multicolored candles.
Orange is the tinkling of a bronzed bell as my dog rushes in through the door after his walk. At first pass, it would seem a reminder that daily life full of dip-dip egg yolks, aged newspapers splattered in grease and cigarettes, will always be oranges as common to me as the single orange placed in my father's father’s stocking. Like that orange, I they seem to require me to reject a piece of me. But they are also embers waiting to be fanned, once lived experiences maintaining the form of an eternally stretched out stocking that waits.
Orange is that lick of memory’s flame. One by one, my Hanukkah lights glow across eight December nights. I sing the blessing in my imagined pronunciation of the words. I sing a song that’s not mine because it’s Jewish but because it was my mother’s. She sang it in front of my eyes resting atop the counter. Like the lone orange in a farm boy's stocking, I feel incompetent to fill the space, but like the orange, I try.
Orange is the warmth that spreads across my chest as deep breath in song. One by one the choir members file in and find their places. So does my father. They sit on folding chairs. I sit alone in a crowd in pews more crisp than scrunchy. The wood stands my back up straight. Its brown swirls long to be orange as tongues to foreign music. My father said this year the selected piece consisted of easy carols to know. But I don't know his songs. I feel the same discomfort to sing as I feel alone with Hanukkah candles in the kitchen, despite the voices that surround me. Some of the music I recognize from classical piano pieces my mother’s fingers plunked beside me. When I realize the music is older than the words, so too I realize my allegiances already made. Even my bitten down nails can pick off the rubbery skin.
My brother states we’ve reached an unacceptable level of ridiculous. We buy pounds of chocolate and caramel and mint and pecan wrapped candy anyway in homage to our grandfather’s lone orange long traded in on store shelves. I wrap Christmas sparkle around the boxes to place under the tree even though the familiar lengths and widths are impossible to disguise. The oozing, melting chocolate is far from the orange that our father's father found in his stocking, the only time he saw an orange all year. Smelling a skirt of pine needles and open boxes, there is a prick of regret, or maybe loss, that makes my dad wince. It’s a song in familiar melodies to which he doesn’t remember the original words.
But we are together. We write our own on crumpled paper, filling our fingers full of paper cuts. Their sting lingers after the unwrapping at the loss of the simplicity of an orange to the slick, glossy tower of candy boxes. It tips as if it melted away, like candles burned out. But my mouth captures juice drops and citrus lingers on my fingers running through my dog's golden orange coat. Next year, I think, I will put an orange in his stocking.