Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Christmas Orange

I can’t look at the news coverage of “Black Friday” — the day when stores traditionally sell so much Christmas merchandise that their red ink finally turns to black — without thinking of my Father’s and my Uncles’ Christmas memories. orange christmas 2

Their father was “a hard man;” selfish and sometimes cruel. He regarded his eight sons as a cheap source of labor, and, at the turn of the century, that labor was hard. Once — once! — one of my uncles told me a happy memory of his father. My own father had none.

But, at Christmas, although they did not expect — or get — toys and presents, they did get . . .

orange for christmas

. . .  an orange.

And my father and my uncles remembered that orange as the best tasting thing they had ever eaten. They remembered those Christmas oranges for seventy years. The spoke about them every Christmas. No modern orange — available by the bag — ever tasted as good to them as that one — their only orange of the year. No orange was ever as sweet, or as juicy, as the orange they found in their stockings on Christmas morning.

Growing up in California, I found it hard to imagine a time when oranges were scarce and exotic. By the 1950s, when I was old enough to ride around town on my bicycle, orange trees, lemon trees, and even grapefruit trees could be seen growing in front yards all over Redwood City. But my father was born early in the 1900s, when oranges came by train. The fact that they ripened in December, when other fruits were scarce, made them a valuable source of vitamins (The word “vitamin” didn’t exist until 1912.)

Orange Col orange crate label from As far as I know, this image is in public domain.

Orange County orange crate label from As far as I know, this image is in public domain.

In the 1980s I lived in southern California, and commuted on the “Orange Freeway.” (I was always disappointed that surface of the Orange Freeway was black, yellow, and white, just like all the other freeways.) Once, I found myself in the city of Orange. I was concentrating on my navigation and not paying much attention to the scenery — just buildings and more buildings. Suddenly the car was filled with a sweet aroma that had nothing in common with truck exhaust and gas fumes: orange blossoms! At a stop sign I looked over and saw that there was one surviving orchard filled with orange trees at the side of the road. “The Orange Freeway.” “Orange County.” “The City of Orange.” All at once, the names made sense to me.

I don’t understand why oranges were still a rare treat in the early 1900s; oranges had been commercially grown in the Los Angeles/Riverside area for decades. Even people in the snow-covered midwest could get oranges by train — although they must have been relatively expensive; a crate of oranges was a fine Christmas gift.

1920s Christmas Toys

This photograph, from my mother’s family, shows that, by the 1920s, children no longer had to be satisfied with a single orange at Christmas:

Children and toys, early 1920s

Children and toys, early 1920s

These well-cared for children were my mother’s nephew and niece.

Boy and his sister, early 1920s

Boy and his sister, early 1920s

Children and their toys, early 1920s

Children and their toys, Redwood City, early 1920s

I can’t say that all these toys were Christmas presents, but I see a baby carriage with a baby doll, a Flyer and another toy wagon, a stuffed dog, a sailboat, small toy cars and trucks, a swing (the children are sitting in it), a toy car big enough to ride in, a tricycle, and many other items too small to identify. Not all of these toys came from their parents; my mother and two of her siblings were childless in the 1920s, so this boy and girl — my cousins — had gifts lavished on them by their aunts and uncle and grandmother.

1940s Christmas Toys

Little girl with Christmas toys, about 1948

Little girl with Christmas toys, late 1940s. I count 14 dolls, a doll swing, a doll cradle, and a toy piano.

This happened again when I was born, in the 1940s. By then, those cousins were adults. There hadn’t been a small child in my mother’s family for decades, and my father had seven brothers. . . . Most adults enjoy shopping for toys, when they have disposable income, and I had such a rich haul that I couldn’t think of names for all my dolls. I started naming them after the person who gave them to me. I think I’m the only little girl in town who had a baby doll, dressed a long white christening gown, who was named “Uncle Ole.”

Christmas on the ALCAN Highway, 1940s

Uncle Ole was in the construction business. During World War II he helped to build the highway — considered a military necessity — that ran from the West Coast through Canada and north to Alaska. Driving trucks, bulldozers and other grading equipment in freezing weather, the men who undertook this work endured harsh, miserable conditions. After putting in a long day — exposed to the weather — they slept in “tents” which had wooden frames covered by one layer of tent material. There was no insulation. There was a heater in the center of the room, but it didn’t really heat the tent. At Christmas, the men received a crate of oranges. Ole’s roomate put an orange on the wooden rail above his bed, intending to eat it for breakfast.

In the morning, the orange was hard as a rock — frozen solid by the sub-zero weather inside the tent. When Uncle Bert told me about those wonderful Christmas oranges of his childhood, my Uncle Ole told me about that war-time orange.

Imagine eating an orange so delicious — and so rare — that you can still taste it after seventy years.

orange christmas 2


Filed under 1900 to 1919, 1920s, 1940s, Uncategorized, Vintage Photographs, World War II

Corn Syrup and Candy Were Good for Kids (in 1930s Advertisements)

"Doctors Recommend Karo for Growing Children" Karo Ad, Better Homes and Gardens, April 1930.

“Doctors Recommend Karo for Growing Children” Karo Ad, Better Homes and Gardens, April 1930.

There’s something very American about turning corn into high fructose corn syrup and then turning that high fructose corn syrup into candy corn, the Hallowe’en treat.

Sally Edelstein’s blog, Envisioning the American Dream, recently posted a World War II advertisement for Budweiser [!] Corn Syrup that dated to 1943 (Click here.)

“Candy is part of the field ration and sweets are served generously to our armed forces everywhere. Sweets served in war plants have greatly stepped up human energy and production,” claims the ad.

This ad for Karo Syrup is even earlier, dating to 1930:  p 127 doctors recommend karo syrup  narrow better homes april 1930p 127 doctors recommend karo syrup text better homes april 1930

“There are 120 calories per ounce in Karo — almost twice the energy value of eggs and lean beef, weight for weight . . . Serve plenty of Karo; keep the children strong, healthy and happy.” [Nowadays we would call those “empty calories.” Who knew? Karo would gladly send you free nutritional advice on “The Food of the Infant and Growing Child.”]

In 1937, the Dionne Quintuplets were used to endorse all sorts of products. Surely they owed their healthy appearance to Karo Syrup:

"Of course we eat Karo."  The Dionne Quintuplets in an ad from Ladies' Home Companion, Feb. 1937.

“Of course we eat Karo.” The Dionne Quintuplets in an ad from Ladies’ Home Companion, Feb. 1937.

The 1930 Karo ad assured parents that “Karo, doctors have found, does not cause a child to develop an abnormal taste for sweets.” I’m surprised not to have found an ad claiming that 4 out of 5 dentists recommend candy for children.

From an ad recommending citrus fruit juice for children, The Delineator magazine, June 1934.

From an ad recommending citrus fruit juice for children, The Delineator magazine, June 1934.

“Tooth decay and mild-to-severe gum troubles are found in nearly four out of five American children, records show.”

I’m probably just jealous of all those kids whose parents believed the ads saying that candy was good for them; my parents only allowed candy in the house at Christmas, Easter, and Halloween. (I wasn’t happy about it then, but, perhaps coincidentally, I’m now a senior citizen with a full set of healthy teeth. Thanks, Mom.)

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Filed under 1930s, 1940s, Vintage Ads