“Do you know what this is?”
Mister Cooper held the orange ball between his thumb and first finger. Three pairs of eyes looked up at the strange food. Their knitted hats were pulled down over their ears. Their noses and cheeks glowed with the rosy hue of winter’s blast. Roster rubbed his red mitten across his runny nose and shook his head. Dellie stood behind little Sammy with her hands on his shoulders. His eyes were as big as the big toothless gap in his smile.
Mama had given each of them a penny to spend at the general store. Dellie liked the peppermint drops, and Sammy, the red cherry balls. Roster had tasted every candy in Mister Cooper’s store. His favorites were sassafras drops and licorice.
Mister Cooper rubbed the orange on his white apron and held it up to the light. “This here is a genuine orange. It comes all the way from the southern tropics, where it never freezes and they never have snow.”
Mister Cooper smiled at the little boy. “No snow! They have tall palm trees on beaches of white sand. They also have lemons, bananas, and coconuts.”
Roster thought it looked suspiciously like a vegetable. “What’s it taste like?”
“It’s sweeter than maple sugar and juicier than a ripe plum. It smells tangier than far eastern spices.”
Dellie frowned. “It must cost a lot to bring it all the way from the tropics.”
Mister Cooper tossed the orange from one hand to the other. “It came by boat and even train to be here in the middle of the winter.”
“So, how much does it cost?”
“I’ll make a deal with you. This tropical orange normally would cost you seven cents, but today, I’ll sell it to you for only five cents.”
Sammy tugged on Dellie’s arm. “Do we have five thents?”
Dellie leaned her elbow on the counter top. “We don’t have five cents, so we’ll have some peppermints, cherry balls, and licorice.”
“I suppose I could sell it for three cents—just this once.”
With the deal done, the youngsters stepped into the blustery street. Dellie wrapped her muffler around her nose. Roster tossed a snowball at the grist mill’s waterwheel. Sammy trotted to keep up. “Dellie, can I hold the twopic owange?”
Roster hollered, “Hey! I want a turn, too!”
“You’ll both get a turn. Just don’t lose it before we get home.”
The tropical orange made it home, even though it slipped from Sammy’s mittened hands a couple times—its bright color sinking into the white fluff. Mama oohed over it and took a long sniff of its skin.
They all crowded around as Mama placed the orange on the table. Sammy hopped on one foot and then the other. Roster leaned forward on his forearms. Dellie’s forehead puckered. “Mama, how do you eat a tropical orange?”
Mama smiled. “I’ve only had one before—when I was just a girl myself. You pull off the skin like this.” Little sprinkles of tangy drops sprayed over her hands. The children breathed in the exotic scent. Mama began pulling the ball into sections.
“Here’s one for you.” She put a piece in front of Sammy. “And one for you and you.” Each of the children had four pieces.
Roster straightened up. “Sammy’s pieces are bigger!”
“You all have the same amount.”
Dellie picked up a piece and licked it. The droplets were sweet but tingled on her tongue. The skin popped between her teeth, spurting a burst of flavor into her mouth. She closed her eyes and imagined sitting on a sunny beach under a palm tree.
By the time she slurped the last of the juice from her first section, Roster had eaten two of his sections. “Ooooh, these are much better than licorice!”
Mama licked her fingers and smiled.
Dellie looked down at her remaining pieces. “Mama, you don’t have any!”
“That’s alright. I’ve had an orange before.”
Mama gathered the peelings into her palm.
“What are going to do with those?”
“Watch this!” Mama put a peeling on the cookstove. It sizzled and the room filled with the roasting spicy smell. “I’ll save the rest for later, and we can remember this day another time.”
While Mama was tying the rest of the orange peels in a clean cloth, Dellie pushed two pieces over to her place at the table. A tropical orange tasted best when it was shared.
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