When I was little, I went to church with my grandma and grandpa whenever I was at their house on Sundays. Since my mom worked several jobs when I was little, I was at my grandparents’ house a lot.
One thing that I can vividly remember about that church is the smell of the place. An odd mix of Veg-All, old books and Bengay.
Now that I’m older, that mix of smells makes perfect since considering the mean church population’s age is somewhere around 70 and they have always served dinner to the poor kids from the church’s neighborhood.
The only time the smell of that church changes is at Christmas time when the parishioners erect a real, live [well…used to be live] evergreen and then string it with the old bulbs that are as big as a baby’s fist. Then the church smells like Veg-All, old books, Bengay, Christmas trees and apples.
The apples come in since a bag of apples, oranges and nuts are what the little kids get as Christmas gifts.
When I was one of those kids, I would get my bag of mixed fruit and nuts and wonder what the hell I was supposed to do with it. Not because I didn’t like fruit – because I did, though the nuts I could do without.
What a six year old wants for Christmas is toys. Loud toys that require lots of batteries and lots of patience on the part of the six year old’s parents. What a six year old doesn’t want for Christmas is a bag of fruit and nuts. Trust me on this one.
What six year old me couldn’t understand was that back in my grandparents’ day, an apple, an orange, some nuts and maybe a nickel were prized possessions. If you grew up during the Great Depression, fruit and nuts were a luxury that you probably didn’t see too often. But, of course, little six year old me wasn’t grateful for the gift.
When I was in junior high, my school district had the brilliant idea to teach good citizenship by having a word of the week. Words like responsibility, compassion, charity and gratitude all had their week in the sun and their definitions and examples were read to us over the intercom every morning during homeroom.
While the idea was nice – and I’m sure it made the school administration awfully proud of themselves – the lessons they were trying to teach were abstract and schools usually aren’t known for their success at teaching abstract concepts. Those two minutes were spent passing notes or doodling swirls on our notebooks. Nothing sunk in. No lessons were learned.
Gratitude is something that you learn as you get older through experience. Gratitude is something that you learn once you’ve lost something or someone very dear to you. You appreciate what or who they were and you learn from your mistake of not appreciating the gift while you had it.
Charity can’t be taught – it’s a compulsion. You either feel compelled to help out those less fortunate than you or you don’t. Forcing charitable actions fail even if something good comes from those actions because charity is a two-way street. The person being charitable has to have a charitable heart and the person receiving the charity has to be humble enough to accept the help.
And compassion and responsibility? Those are two things that some people never learn.
This all hit me today as I reached into a bag of apples from a cabinet under my counter and was hit by the sickly sweet smell of overripe apples.
I sliced the bright red thing in two, then into four and finally into eight perfect wedges and removed the core from each. I patiently inspected each wedge for any brown spots and then after each had passed my inspection, I placed them on a Hello Kitty plate right next to a heaping spoonful of peanut butter.
“Cara! Your apple’s ready!” I called out into the living room.
Cara tore into the kitchen screeching about some loud, battery operated toy she had just seen on TV and she took the plate full of apples with a small “Thank you” and then carefully carried the plate back into the living room. Ollie, being a typical little brother, knocked the plate from Cara’s hands which of course led to a bout of tears and screaming. An apple wedge or two were thrown at Oliver’s head and I’m pretty sure the dog got some peanut butter before it was all said and done.
Life went on as it tends to do and the apples were picked up, dusted off and eaten.
I want my kids to truly understand those concepts that my junior high teachers tried to teach us and I wish that there was some way that Caroline and Oliver could learn those lessons without having to experience pain and loss.
But I know that my job is to present both of them with the best apples I can and then let them do with them what they will.