Growing up in a large family, the responsibility of chores constantly loomed over me and my eight brothers and sisters. In our house, a chart on an inside kitchen cabinet outlined which two-kid team was up for doing the dishes. The boys got the lucky chore of putting the trash out on the sidewalk every week — a distance of maybe 20 feet from cellar door to sidewalk but we always fought about it. At a certain age we were responsible for bringing our own laundry down to the laundry room. “You want clean socks? Too bad you didn’t bring down the dirty ones!”

As the oldest, often special duties were delegated to me. Bring these papers down to Dad’s store on Union street. On Friday afternoons after a day at Tisbury School, I’d be stopping at John’s Fish Market on the way home to pick up that night’s supper. But there was one special responsibility that I was always glad to fulfill and looked forward to each December.

“Don’t forget to stop by the school nurse’s office and pick up the Red Stocking.”

The Red Stocking. It was as much a part of our family’s Christmas as earning money for Christmas presents, baking cookies, going to Webb’s Campground for our tree, and darned if we couldn’t find where Santa hid the presents, even though there was a gaggle of us to search.

Mom had taught us there were some little boys and girls who didn’t have all the things the nine of us kids did, and it was our duty to help them out at Christmas so they could have presents too. Each of us had a stocking with our name on it (Aunt Mary, who lived in Boston, got them from Jordan Marsh) and we were proud and happy that a little boy or girl was going to have a stocking too.

Miss Brown, our school nurse forever (thanks for the glasses in fourth grade) had the stockings ready in a neat pile. It was a simple red stocking, with a tag sewn on it. Girl, five years old, size six. Boy, size four, three years old. That’s all we knew about the lucky kid who was going to get a red stocking.

We also knew there were three rules about filling the stocking: Something to wear, something to eat and something to play with. Whether teenager or kindergartener, all of us understood that!

Shopping was first. My sister Catherine (11 months younger) and I were dispatched to Main street. If it was a boy, we were off to Brickman’s. Mrs. Levett was expecting us: how old, what size? It was shoes or sneakers or slippers and a shirt and pants and maybe a sweater. Everything wrapped in tissue paper for the stocking.

If it was a girl, we went a bit further down Main street to Vineyard Dry Goods. Mrs. Levine was expecting us: what size little girl? How old is she? It was socks and a dress and pajamas.

The mix changed every year but always included mittens and a knitted hat, something Mom made or Annie Campbell, Capt. Roy Campbell’s wife and close friend of Mom’s, had dropped off. Toys included a slinky, a doll — yes, boys or girls — and sometimes a Golden Book.

The night before the stocking had to be delivered back to the school, Mom would gather all of us around the kitchen table after supper. The stocking was laid out as well as the gifts and piles of white tissue paper. First in was always an orange. It fit perfectly into the toe. We had to help wrap all the other gifts, and some of my siblings were seeing them for the first time. It was important for us to understand what was needed and that’s why it went into the stocking.

Do you know the challenge a six-year-old faces trying to wrap something in tissue paper? But we all had a hand in the wrapping or the “putting in.” Okay, Tim, you can put in the mittens. Joel, you do the hat, and on through the rest of us. Of course not everything would fit into the stocking, so there was always a big shopping bag to hold what the stocking couldn’t. We were so proud that this lucky boy or girl was going to have so many nice things for Christmas. Won’t that be a surprise!

As we finished and Mom served us hot chocolate, she reminded us that filling the red stocking and helping someone else was as much a part of Christmas as our own good fortune, with filled stockings on the mantle and presents under our own Christmas tree. We knew how wonderful our Christmas was and all of us were glad we could help someone else — even if we didn’t know who — have as happy a Christmas as we would.

To this day, with husbands and wives, children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, in my extended family there’s an orange in the toe of every Christmas stocking.

Vineyard native Michael Anthony graduated from the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School in 1970. He lives in Auburn. Red Stocking Fund wrapping days are Dec. 15, 16, and 17. Call 508-693-2209 to help out or donate gifts.