The Tenth Orange

by Chloe Crismon from the June 2022 issue of The Compass

When I was a little girl, I would spend every day of my summer playing with my cousins in Grandpa’s Orchard.

The orchard was filled with row after row of citrus trees. Grapefruits would grow larger than my head, mandarin oranges smaller than my fist, lemons more sour than candy, and tangelos sweeter than sugar.

In springtime the softest blossoms would cover all the trees, with petals whiter than snow. They smelled of that first cut through an orange’s peel.

Grandpa was very direct when he told us not to climb the trees or pick the flowers. “These flowers will become fruit if they stay on the tree.”

We watched from the ground as some blossoms survived the strong wind while others fell, anyway. The flowers drifted in the breeze, landing by our toes. If you were lucky, you could catch one as it fell.

As spring moved on, the petals withered and fell from the trees while the stems stayed strong. In the middle of the flower, where the bees like to go, a small green ball formed.

Daddy would lift me on his shoulder so that I could see, “That is the orange!”

Springtime was gone when the cool clouded mornings became hot blazed days. The sun rose earlier and set later. All the while, the tiny green orbs grew slightly bigger each day.

One cousin discovered that the green oranges weren’t very sweet to eat, but they were hard enough to throw. They would leave bruises on our backs and sides.

When Grandpa learned what was happening, he would yell to the heavens, saying, “Don’t touch my fruit!”

We stood in a line while our parents watched their father teach us the same lesson they learned when they were little. “If you pull all the fruit off the tree before it’s ripe, it will never finish growing. You have wasted so much fruit!” The ground was covered with broken green citrus.

He made us promise not to touch the fruit or we wouldn’t be allowed to play in the orchard anymore. With tear streamed faces, we agreed and said we were sorry.

Summer became hotter each day and scorpions climbed the trees, so our play time was moved to the pool. Splashing to make waves, we soon forgot about the growing fruit.

School started, and the heat held on, even after Halloween. Like the sudden change of petals being on the tree, then on the ground, the warmth faded. The sun rose after breakfast and set before dinner.

During Thanksgiving, I saw the most amazing thing: some of the green fruits were turning yellow, and others were turning orange.

“It’s time to pick the fruit!” Grandma said with excitement. She and Grandpa lined up the baskets while their children and grandchildren began picking the citrus.

Picking oranges was fun to do. I practiced my counting, but only to ten, as Grandma taught me something very important. “Every tenth orange must be placed in the tenth basket. The first nine are ours to keep. The tenth orange is the Lord’s orange.”

Each family was able to take a basket home while the tenth one was given away in the driveway. We would help tie up the fruit in old grocery bags and whoever wanted to take one could. All the while, the older cousins would run the lemonade stand. Grandma reminded them, “The tenth lemon is the Lord’s lemon, so be sure to save all the money you make from each tenth cup so that we can give it to the church.”

Christmas was just around the corner, but still there was work to do. Rotting forgotten fruit brought flies to the orchard, so we helped Grandpa pick it all up off the ground and throw it away.

After the cleaning was finished, the trees were ready to be fed. Overnight, our own ocean appeared. We played in the irrigation water until dark. Every tree was like a floating island in the mirror sea.

Each morning, with orange juice fresh from the freezer, Mommy would say, “Aren’t you proud of all the hard work you did?” With a smile, she added, “It will be fun to help again next year.”

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