Christmas is coming.
He sits at his omputer staring at the screen. His deadline is three days away and he has to write 600 words on the most written about event of the year.
He's been writing a column for the paper for some time and he knows that most of his Christmas stories have already been told.
He thinks about Christmases with his family when he was a child, when they all gathered in their small house and filled the rooms with food and talk and laughter.
He begins to write, smiling at the memory of one Christmas morning when he was seven or eight.
Instead of waking to find the large grey sock filled with the usual Christmas things, he found a readymade stocking with a stiff red back and a black net front through which he could see the shapes and colours of the items packed inside it.
He didn't know the word cornucopia then, but he thinks about it now, the toys overflowing as he tore open the tab at the stocking's top. The eyes of his memory widen at the thought of it.
He tries to visualize the individual items that spilled out onto the bed, toys and trinkets that he knew he had played with all through the holidays, but he can't.
He has a sense of bright colours and flat metal. He can see himself arranging the items in order, trying unsuccessfully to put them back into the torn stocking.
He rubs his eyes and looks hard at the screen.
He knows this isn't his only memory of childhood Christmases?
He knows there were other mornings when he had woken early, whispering with his brothers and sister so as not to waken their parents, searching in the sock for the chocolate and the orange he knew would be there; the once-a-year treat that would be unwrapped and peeled and eaten quickly, one bite of orange and then one of chocolate, alternately, until they were gone.
As he pictures the traditional sock with its home-made contents, he realizes that the manufactured one, which had seemed so flashily exciting at the time, was probably filled with cheap tin junk.
No chocolate, no orange, no knitted gloves or socks; nothing of wood, paper, or leather.
He wonders about his parents' decision to break an age-old family custom, and then it comes to him that this was the year they were really poor.
It was deep into the '30s and his father was not always at work and there would have been little money for chocolate and oranges, or for the wool to knit the traditional gloves and socks.
His mother had not been well that year and must have struggled to provide the good things needed to bake a cake and have a few wrapped presents to pass around.
As the time ticks away and the deadline grows closer, he remembers other Christmases when large cardboard boxes had arrived in the post from his grandparents and aunts and uncles to be ceremoniously opened to reveal gaily wrapped packages that would be added to those already under the tree.
He considers the colour and flavour of Christmas, the red and green and gold, the fruit cake and mince pies and how thrilled and happy he had always been and then he realizes that, even in the worst years, he had not known how poor his family was.
He looks once more at the screen, touches the keys that will tell him how many words he has written and reads - 597.
Christmas had come.
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