(continued from June 17)
3. Metaphoric meaning-
Getting back to the “peel off”, this contest was not as simple as you might imagine. For Dad and for me, the orange could very well be a metaphor for life itself.
As a newly blind youngster, trying to discriminate between the textures of peel and fruit while preserving the integrity of the orange peel — all with the clock tick-tick-ticking—was definitely challenging for me. After all, I was weaving together my tiny strands of identity and the overpowering cords of blindness and fear, schoolwork and friends; and hoping to come out with something unique and valuable.
And it wasn’t easy for my Dad either, having only one “normal”hand.
Growing up,however, “disability” was simply not part of my family’s everyday life and lingo. I knew that each of us mattered, and that we each had something worthwhile to contribute. We have always joked and made fun, and all were expected to do our best at school and at home.
So how could I ever think of my Dad as disabled?
I knew he could do anything– carry me on his shoulders, make chili or macaroni and cheese from scratch, use screwdrivers hammers, drills or table saws;fix a motor, hang shelves, paint and paper my bedroom, grow the prettiest flowers and the yummiest tomatos. Only as my world expanded did the complexity of his challenges become apparent to me.
You see, my Dad was already a young man when he lost full function of his right hand because of a gasoline fire. And while his classmates and buddies went off to WWII, he spent a year in the hospital waging a very personal battle of his own.
My Dad was fighting to preserve the integrity of who he was.
And, Baruch HaShem, he did it. He eventually trained his left hand to assume the dominant role, accepted a job in a local foundry, and married my mother. He supported us very nicely as a salesman, always ready to meet new people, and to extend a hand—albeit a left hand—in greeting.
Dad remains my champion and my role model, and just peeling an orange reminds me that Life’s sweetness has not come easily to either of us.
4. Secret meaning-
There is no telling what an orange will mean to me in the years to come. Perhaps it will be the means of transmitting some trace of my father’s character or influence to my children’s children. Perhaps the “peel off” will find new meanings I can’t even imagine.
All I know is that As I write this, my Dad is nearing his eighty-eighth birthday. He and Mom have moved into a condominium a few doors away from my sister; and living 2000 miles to the west, I remain his biggest fan. He has fewer flowers to tend, but stays busy with home projects like painting walls and hanging shelves. And even though the tomatos may be store bought these days, my Dad’s hugs are as strong as ever.
Yes, an orange holds many meanings for me. It is the gift of toughness and flexibility, of pith and sweetness. It is a little girl’s adoration and a parent’s steadfast love. It is a timeless connection that transcends physical distance and disability,shifts in perspective and religion.
Mostly it is my father’s voice saying simply:
“Well, it’s time for me to peel my orange.”