Dorota awoke to see the gray day dawning on the Feast of St. Andrzej, November 30.
The nine year old slipped out of bed and got to her knees. “St. Andrzej,” she prayed. “Please free Poland.
“And dear Lord, might I have three pomarañcze (oranges) for Christmas?”
The freeing of Poland seemed more likely than did the procuring of oranges. In those days of limited contact with the West, only children of sailors could hope to receive oranges for Christmas.
Dorota had eaten an orange once. In 1981 when she was five years old, a friend had received oranges for Christmas and shared one with her. Ever since, Dorota had associated the smell of oranges with Christmas.
She entered the living room where her mother Magdalena, slept on the pullout sofa. When the sofa was open it took up nearly half the room.
But Magdalena was already up and dressed, preparing breakfast in the kitchenette. Magdalena made tea as coffee was scarce. She had just enough ration cards to buy flour for bread. Butter had all but disappeared from the shops so they spread the bread with a petrol tasting margarine.
When they finished breakfast they folded up the table and squeezed out of the kitchen between the wall and the stove.
When Dorota’s father Andrzej, had been alive they lived in a larger apartment. Andrzej had been active in Solidarity since its inception in 1980. One late evening in 1982 they heard a knock on the door. The secret police took Father away.
Dorota and her mother were moved to this apartment on Brzeska Street which the state deemed sufficient for two people.
Dorota and Magdalena left the apartment and crammed into the elevator. The elevator squeaked and groaned as it descended eight flights.
They walked outside onto the cracked pavement. Soon it would be covered with ice. Last winter their neighbor Malgorzata had fallen and miscarried.
They came to Maja Street and entered a huge gray building similar to theirs only with no elevator.
At the fourth floor landing a window had been broken. Shattered glass lay on the floor.
They reached the sixth flight and knocked on a door.
“Babcia!” cried Dorota and Magdalena in unison.
On Saturdays before she went to the factory, Magdalena left Dorota in the care of Babcia (grandmother).
Babcia was not Dorota’s real grandmother. Dorota’s grandparents had been killed in the war. But Babcia was like a grandmother to Dorota and told her wonderful stories about life in Poland before 1939.
“Babcia,” asked Dorota when Magdalena had left for work. “Did you ever eat oranges?”
“Why of course! Before 1939 we always had oranges!”
“All year ‘round.”
“Babcia, do you think—if I prayed very hard—might I get oranges for Christmas?”
“That is a very tall order,” answered Babcia. “But we Poles believe that with prayer all things are possible.”
The next day, the first day of Advent, Dorota went to church and prayed for oranges.
On Tuesday, December 3 she prayed to St. Francis Xavier.
On December 4 she prayed to St. Barbara.
On December 6 she prayed to St. Nicholas who loved children, and the next day to St. Ambrose who was very wise.
December 8 was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception so she prayed to Our Lady.
She did not forget St. Lucy on December 13 or St. John of the Cross the next day.
December 16 was the anniversary of the death of Honoratus Kozminski. He had not yet been declared a saint but he was certain to be. Had he not been born in this very city of Siedlce?
“Dear Honoraturus. I would so like three oranges for Christmas. One for me, one for Mama, and one for Babcia.
“Please tell me dear Honoratus what I must do to receive three oranges.”
Dorota walked out of the church. An old man was tottering down the steps.
“Can you tell me where is Pilsudskiego Street, Dziewczynka (little girl)? The street names have changed since I was last in Siedlce.”
“I will walk with you, Dziadek (grandfather).”
They came to Pilsudskiego Street. Dorota turned to say goodbye to the old man but he was gone.
The days went by and on Christmas Eve Dorota, Magdalena, and Babcia attended Midnight Mass.
When they returned to their Brzeska Street apartment, they found a box lying just outside the door.
They lugged in the box and opened it.
Inside was a crate marked “Jaffa Oranges.”
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a true story. The giver of the oranges remains a mystery to this day. Jaffa oranges are from Israel and are exceptionally sweet and delicious. Years later when Poland was free again, Dorota told me this story. She never forgot the happiness that comes with the simplest of joys.
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