Harvest of Oranges
Date: January 3rd 2069
Place: South England
Coiled garden hoses; feather-filled duvets; fleece jackets; bath tubs; central heating boilers breaking down. I’m sure the list will get longer once I start on my goal for this new year: to pen a short family history before these things are forgotten. Things like the different smells of the contrasting weather seasons, the clean freshness of spring and the sharp tang of autumn – the things my Mam and Dad used to tell me about when I was growing up. Memory sharpens as you get older and many of the things of the past are coming back to me now.
We were clearing out the roof loft, my wife and I, a few weeks ago. We wanted to make some more room up there, because, as my wife keeps saying lately, you never know when we may need it. We found some antique, anyway pretty old, DVDs, covered in dust but still in working order. We decided to watch them with the grandkids over the two-week Yuletide and New Year public holiday. The kids spend most holidays with us now, for reasons I won’t go into here.
I’d got up to adjust the downstairs aircon when the kids started rolling around on the floor shouting with laughter.
“What’s a Now Man, Granfer?” they giggled.
I came back and peered at the screen. The DVD was old, as I said, and not modern quality and the lettering wasn’t as distinct as it could be.
“Now Man nonsense,” I said. “That’s The Snowman.”
“What’s a Snowman, Granfer?” They giggled again.
“It’s a person-shaped lump of snow without arms and legs.” I said. “Children used to build them for fun.” I knew that much.
Three pairs of now solemn eyes stared at me in blatant disbelief.
But I do remember snow.
“When I was about the age you are now,” I told them, “we woke up one morning, it must have been early 2007 or thereabouts, and everything outside the house was covered in thick, stiff, white powder. The world looked like meringue. In those days, we still had hats and woollen scarves and gloves, just in case, like, and we slithered our way along the footpath to school without getting too cold and wet. Snow looks pretty but it’s cold and wet if you touch it. Anyway, we got to school and had just started our usual lessons when the headteacher came round and said we could all go out into the playground and play. I think the teachers wanted us to experience what it was like to play in the snow – I’ve never done it again since. And to be honest, I didn’t rate it much, there wasn’t enough to make a snowman, and by lunchtime it had all disappeared, melted right away under our very eyes. When we walked back home along the footpath, everything was muddy brown again. But the green spears of the daffodil bulbs were still peeking through the mud. The snow hadn’t harmed them at all.
“But you can’t imagine the trouble it caused, with the traffic and all that,” I continued. And of course, they couldn’t. I can hardly imagine it myself now, but I know that only two centimetres of snowfall was disastrous for the transport systems and that every time it happened, the trains were unable to move on the tracks, cars skidded across the roads and piled up into traffic jams, and people slipped and fell over on their own doorsteps. The whole country would come to a complete standstill. We’re so lucky nowadays – we don’t know we’re born.
I don’t think the kids believed me. But this reminiscing thing, it brings back to life so many other incidents, all tumbling over each other in their hurry to get to the front of my mind. It’s only a small memory but I’m sure my grandparents told me that when their parents were little and money and toys were in short supply, they would find a real orange from overseas stuffed in the toe of what in those days they called their X-mas stocking. That story probably goes back nearly 150 years – I think it must have been before the second of the great wars, although my history is a bit shaky. My Mam said her Mam said they used to dry the orange peel and throw it on the open indoor fire in the winter. It’s difficult to imagine the scene, I agree, but she swore it was true. She said the peel would sizzle and flare and hiss in the heat and send a sweet rich scent out into the room. So this year, as a joke, we gave the kids one of our own home-grown oranges each, and a lemon too, for good measure. Our lemon trees are yielding a comparatively small harvest as yet but they have a piquant flavour. The market is growing rapidly and we have high hopes for the future, once the irrigation channels from the river have been re-cut and deepened.
I think that’s how I’ll start my family memoir, with a story from my great-grands about orange peel spitting in the embers. A story to pass down the generations to our descendants in what, in defiance of the ever-rising sea levels and our crumbling coastline, we all fervently hope and pray will be a long, warm and sweetly-scented future.
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