Life is Like a Crate of Oranges

Oranges are rich, succulent, and dripping with nutrients.

They’re also symbolic of the day Great Grandpa Conrad and his Chrysler Coupe crashed into a concrete wall.

According to my mom, Conrad was a tall, quiet man of thin frame and generous spirit who took his kids fishing and complimented his wife on her cooking on a regular basis. His family was his pride and joy. And so was his shiny blue car.

One day, feeling a little restless as a retired railroad agent in need of an adventure, Conrad packed a small suitcase.

Life is like a crate of oranges

After he snapped it shut, he pulled up his suspenders, put on his hat, gave his tolerant wife, Lillian, a peck on the cheek, and climbed into his jazzy set of wheels for a solo road trip from his crunchy-cold Minnesota town to the tropical paradise of California.

While there, he stopped at a small citrus grove and ordered crates of freshly picked navel oranges—the ones named after their prominent belly buttons—to be delivered to family, friends, and neighbors.

It was just the sort of thoughtful thing he was known to do, according to my mom.

Then, he continued on his journey and fell asleep at the wheel. The oranges began arriving at people’s doorsteps right around the same time as the news of his death.

“To this day, I can’t eat an orange without thinking about Grandpa Conrad,” my Mom once said to me.

And ever since she told me that story, neither can I.

Conrad’s legacy will forever be marked by his final acts of adventure and generosity.

I’ve been thinking about my own legacy lately. Not about material things I’ll pass on to others (or have delivered in crates to doorsteps). But, rather, what final acts will I be remembered for? How will I have touched people’s lives?


Great Grandpa Conrad on a bench with my Mom sitting immediately next to him, along with two of her siblings.

Although I’ve got plenty of mojo left, midlife is churning these sorts of questions within.

My husband, kids, and I have been watching a lot of old family movies the past couple weeks. There are very few things my two teens and a tween agree on at the moment. But as soon as the lights are dimmed and those images of them as high-pitched “Littles” are projected on the big screen, they’re transformed into a trio of harmony and gut-wrenching laughter. It’s a beautiful thing.

In most of the clips, my husband is the one behind the video camera, and I’m the one in the background picking up Christmas wrap strewn all over the floor, inserting candles in cupcakes, and chasing escape artists in diapers.

Sometimes I look happy and peaceful, laughing, blowing kisses into the camera, donning loving looks at my adorable children. Other times, I look as though I haven’t slept or changed clothes in days. At one point, I give the well-intentioned (but relentless!) “videographer” behind it a look that says “Get that dagnabbit thing out of my face!”

Part sweet. Part sour. Maybe each of us has a little bit of both inside us. The zoom lens doesn’t lie. When I watch those old movies, I occasionally wonder, which part of me will my kids remember most?

Back then, days felt long. Now, days pass by like a shiny blue Chrysler coupe on high speed. To slow it down (and to not hit a concrete wall), I try with all my might to look up and relish today.

It’s no secret, though, I’m a nostalgic soul often looking over my shoulder to stories of the past. But I like to think I do so to better understand my here and now and to gather life lessons for what’s ahead.

So far, it all seems to boil down to this one simple analogy:

Life is like a crate of oranges.

I don’t disagree that it’s also like a box of chocolates as Forrest Gump would say, my favorite underdog who takes us on a heartfelt and humorous journey through defining events in American culture in his 1994 box office hit. Because his momma is right: “You never know what you’re gonna get.”


Forrest Gump on a bench. It looks a little more sturdy than the one Conrad and my mom are sitting on in photo above.

But life is many things. And from my perspective, it’s mostly like a crate of oranges.

The outer layers are often shiny and tough and vary in texture and thickness. And the true essence is found beneath the skin and flesh, when the segments are pulled apart and the stringy white fibers are picked off.

From their innermost parts, oranges filtrate vitamins and minerals that promote growth, heal wounds, and fight infection into the bloodstreams of millions. What do you hope your innermost filtrates? 

Fruit for thought.

As my friend Forrest would say, “that’s all I have to say about that.”

Do you have something to say about that? I LOVE to hear from readers in comment section below. Otherwise it sort of feels like I’m sitting on a bench eating oranges and chocolates all by myself. 

I’m Julie Jo Severson, former PR girl, now a freelance writer, editor, journalist, and mom to two teens and a tween. This blog, Carvings on a Desk, is where I doodle about past, present, future clinking glasses and making peace. 

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About Julie Jo Severson

Julie Jo Severson, former PR girl, is now a freelance writer, journalist, editor, and lost-and-found attendant for two teens and a tween. This is where she doodles about past, present, future clinking glasses and making peace.

13 comments on “Life is Like a Crate of Oranges

  1. Loved this piece Julie!! Your writing always takes me back to happy moments of my own past and those that have touched my life!

  2. Oh my gosh Julie is that why grandma and grandpa always had the tradition of shipping a crate of oranges every Christmas when we were children? They must’ve done it in his memory. I knew about the car crash but I never knew there was a connection between those two things

    • Hi Birdie! 🙂 Yeah, I’m guessing that is the source of that tradition. I know, that was a light bulb moment for me, too. Really something when you think about this being Grandma Gertrude’s Dad! Makes it feel all that more relevant and close to home.

  3. OH Julie, you are such a gifted story teller! I could read your inspiring heart swelling stories all day… And this one does NOT disappoint. Just incredible. Utterly beautiful. And heartbreaking- but your message hits hard.

    Life is surely like a box of oranges. Your descriptions with vivid detail unwrap the sweetness and sour twinges mixed in all our lives, in all of us.

    “It’s no secret, though, I’m a nostalgic soul often looking over my shoulder to stories of the past. But I like to think I do so to better understand my here and now and to gather life lessons for what’s ahead.”

    And lucky us, to be the recipients of your profoundly rich history as we learn and discover all the life lessons that resonate so deeply in all our lives.

    When will all of your words be bound in a book? Oh please say soon!! <3

    • Absolutely speechless. Often I do, in fact, feel as though I’m sitting here doodling, eating oranges and chocolates by myself. But then a few people leave comments here or on Facebook and it feels good to have connected with another through a story. You have a deep gift for connecting, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am, Chris, for your kindness and encouragement.

  4. You’re so amazing, Julie! I love this story and now, I, too, will think about oranges when I think about the box of chocolates. Life is funny that way, but I so very appreciate this connection here tonight. My son doesn’t eat many fruits or veggies but recently has been on a total orange kick. I feel like that means something…

  5. I’m off to peel an orange and savor each delicious bite! Julie, I love the way you write. It calms me, inspires me and give me great “fruit for thought.” Thank you!

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