... my long struggle with Valentine's Day
I haven't had much luck with Valentine's Day, probably because of the strange way it was celebrated in the public schools. My earliest memory includes a very fancy box decorated with red and white crepe paper rosettes. With mother's help, tiny valentine cards were bought for best friends, signed, and secretly loaded into the box one by one. On Valentine's Day a designated "mailman" would distribute the cards, each with a cartoon and a pun about love. Some people's desks overflowed with these tiny missives, others' did not. I always bristled at the Charlie Brown sketch when he received no valentines. I hollered at the tv screen "Where is his teacher!"
In the interest of fairness a rule was established – buy a card for everyone in the class or no one. This was the perfect out for the boys who hated the custom and paved the way for Valentine's Day to become a girly celebration. Somewhere around third or fourth grade the overly decorated box disappeared to be replaced with large individual self-decorated envelopes. Valentines could then be opened and counted or be tucked away to be opened at home.
When I was in sixth grade our local Woolworth's came out with a series of insulting valentines targeting people's bad habits such as lack of hygiene or too much or too little weight. At a nickel each we all thought these would be the perfect cards. My best friend and I poured over the colorful messages, carefully choosing the appropriate wording for friend or foe. Apparently everyone else's parents got wind of this nasty little game and said a resounding "no". Imagine our embarrassment when we were the only two to deliver insults to one and all.
As a senior in college, my best friend and I had boyfriends who were best friends, so we decided to use our newly-learned teacher skills to make valentine scrapbooks for our guys. We cut and pasted, used our fanciest lettering, drew cartoons, cut and pasted some more. If we had spent all this time on our studies, we would have been at the head of the class for sure. Came the romantic evening to present our masterpieces. My boyfriend had tuned into the fact that something special was in the air and brought me the one-red-rose-surrounded-by-baby's-breath. I was blown away. My pal's boyfriend didn't have a clue and came up with a funny little ball-and-chain card which made her furious. They were married a year later!
Finally having a class of my own allowed me to make my own valentine rules. I went the individual envelope route with the heart-covered creations hanging festively all over the room to be opened at home. The year that red construction paper ran out after Christmas made a memorable scene as the kids got creative with lime, purple and magenta – so ahead of their time. I enjoyed delivering anonymous cards "from your secret admirer" and boxes of candy hearts proclaiming "be mine" plumping out the thinner envelopes.There would be no Charlie Browns in my corner of the world.
But being reassigned to middle school was a whole new ball game. The girls were liable to shower their good friends with chocolates, perfume and heart-shaped anythings. Most of the boys ignored the day. Since each child had many classes, the Language Arts Department was designated the class where cards were exchanged, somehow sliding it into the curriculum. As a reading teacher I selected an appropriate story or poem to read aloud, not too mushy but somehow showing love. My favorite activity was a huge graffiti board. I wrote "Love is..." across the top in red marker. The children could finish the sentence in a color of their choosing and they wrote phrases from their hearts: "Love is snuggling up with my golden retriever." " Love is my brother coming home from college." "Love is giving my mother a flower".
Since Valentine's Day was a major interruption and hassle at school, it did not surprise me that my teacher-husband ignored it on the home front. I do not remember ever receiving a Valentine card from Dick. A few years I bought one for him in case he bought one for me, but they were never used. For several years after retirement we worked for a local florist on the weeks before big holidays like Christmas, Easter, Mothers' Day and Valentine's Day, the biggest floral holiday of all. I took orders and telephoned florists all over the country – thousands of dollars worth of roses and appropriate gorgeous arrangements. Not one ever came to my house! One year Dick bought me a beautiful Waterford crystal vase for my birthday. I put it prominently on the mantel, but, after a year of emptiness, I packed it away. About ten years ago we attended "Celebrate Holliston" where a local artisan was selling pottery vases. Dick suggested we buy one. I said fine as long as there were going to be flowers in it. And ever after, on shopping day, there was a bouquet for me in with the groceries. That more than made up for all the missed Valentines.
What does this all have to do with love? Little girls are given unreal expectations early on. Snow White sits beside a wishing well singing "Some day my prince will come ... and how thrilling that moment will be ... he'll whisper I love you and steal a kiss or two ... some day when my dreams come true." How about "Love is a many splendored thing ... it is nature's way of giving a reason to be living, a golden crown that makes a man a king, once on a high and windy hill, in the morning mist two lovers kissed and the world stood still." I ask you!
I recently picked up a supermarket magazine chock full of recipes for heart-shaped, pink food designed to be romantic, but to my mind just silly. Advertised was a red berry wreath to follow the feng shui custom of placing red flowers on your door to "let your suitors know your love light is on." And an ad for a plush, white faux fur throw for "lounging by the fire with your leading man" gave me visions of lots of white lint and sneezing. This is propaganda pointing to the love and romance that only exists in old movies.
Actual love needs consistent nurturing, attention to detail and putting the needs and wants of your partner ahead of your own. The wisdom contained in the Apache Wedding Blessing would put a person on the right track by emphasizing the reciprocal relationship that is needed for true love. It says:
Now you will feel no rain for each of you will be shelter to the other.
Now you will feel no cold for each of you will warm the other.
Now there is no loneliness for you for each of you will be companion to the other.
Now you are two persons but there is one life before you.
Go now into your dwelling place to enter into the days of your togetherness
And may your days be good and long upon the earth.
I especially like Rabbi Harold Kushner's definition in his book The Lord is my Shepherd: "Love is a way of saying, I know all of your good qualities and all of your exasperating qualities, and because I like who I am when I am with you and I like who we are when we're together, I buy the package." The good rabbi and Dick and I were all in agreement with our notion of what love is, and it doesn't include valentines.
February 2, 2007