A Christmas Story

An elderly teacher once told me about his experience teaching in an old country school in rural Arkansas. It was a one-room school where kids of all ages were lumped together. Time had dulled many of his memories, but he would never forget Arlie. Arlie's family lived way out in the hills and they were as poor as dirt.

Arlie and Tommy would eat lunch together every day. Tommy's father owned the general store, which made them one of the richest families around. Nowhere was the gap between these two boys more evident than when they ate together. Arlie brought the same thing every day: flour biscuits covered with pork rind gravy, long grown cold. Tommy always had something different.

As Christmas approached, Tommy started bringing large navel oranges his father put in holiday fruit baskets. Arlie had never seen one—or tasted one. He sat fascinated as he watched Tommy peel it. Tommy felt Arlie's eyes fasten on him, and asked if Arlie would like some. After all, they were friends, weren't they? So Tommy let Arlie eat the peels.

Day after day this went on. The teacher stood by the window every day at noon watching Arlie chew and swallow those bitter orange rinds as if they were the greatest thing in the world. "Please," the teacher silently pleaded, "Just let him have one real slice—just one." But it never happened.

Then the teacher made the decision to take things into his own hands. On the last day of school before Christmas vacation, he went to the store and bought a sack full of candy, small toys and fruit, especially oranges.

The way to Arlie's house couldn't be traveled by car. Snow was starting to fall as the teacher parked his Model-T car by the railroad tracks and started walking the ties. All he could think of was getting this bag to the boy's house. After a while, the teacher couldn't make out the path that cut through the woods to Arlie's. Light was fading fast. That was why he didn't see the root that snagged his boot and caused him to trip and spill his load. Fumbling around in the dark in the fresh snow, he gathered up what he could, stuffed it into the wet sack, and went on.

Arlie sure was surprised to see his teacher at the door. And his eyes were wide and bright when the bag was dumped on the table. Immediately he grabbed an orange and tore off a chunk of the peel. Before the boy could put the peel to his mouth, the teacher took Arlie's hand and said, "Wait! Stop! It's like this." And with that the teacher took the orange and peeled it. As he did the room filled with the fragrance of the fruit. Everyone in the room was in awe.

Then the teacher broke the orange in two and all the children "oohed" over the misting juice that sprayed into the air. Tearing off a single slice, the teacher turned to Arlie and said, "Here." As he told me about this years later, the teacher said, "I will never forget looking into Arlie's eyes when he bit down and the juice and the flavor of that orange exploded on his tongue. It was the look of a boy who never in his wildest dreams could imagine that God could make something that would taste so good."

"O taste and see that the Lord is good," said the young psalmist David in Psalm 34:8. Telling others the good news of the Savior is difficult for many of us. But we forget too easily that God has already done the truly hard part. He gave His Son to become a man and to die a hideous, undeserved death for the sins of all other men. He sent the Holy Spirit to convict men of their sins and to reveal Jesus Christ as the Savior they need. Finally, God even instills faith in the hearts of men to believe in that Savior.

All that God leaves for us is the joyous part, the part that was left to the teacher of a small boy in rural Arkansas. To a world that in a million different ways is cramming its belly with bitter peelings and thinking it to be pretty good stuff, God sends you and me with that first bite of something far richer than anything those people have ever dreamed of. Why would we ever keep it to ourselves?

This true story was taken from the book, now out of print, Dancing With Broken Bones by David Swartz, pastor of the Bethel Baptist Church in Roseville, Michigan. It is reprinted here as it was written with the permission of the author who stated that the names of the individuals mentioned in the story have been changed.

December 01, 2007 / Feature