There was a time when I had a suitor of such passion, bordering on obsession, that my mailbox was filled with Valentines, all with his name scrawled across the bottom. I was “the apple of his eye.” He pleaded, “Please be Mine!” The cards, pink and festooned with hearts, or red and lacy white, begged, complimented and angled to butter me up to cast an accepting eye his way.
I was secretly pleased by the attention, but a little embarrassed, too, and I did nothing to encourage him. This only seemed to fuel his ardor. His mother was concerned. I know this because she accosted my own mother one afternoon at the grocery.
“I want to talk to you about the children,” she said. “This is getting out of hand and I am concerned.”
“They are just too young. He must concentrate on his education,” she said, all fierce and insistent.
Mother listened, standing there in the middle of the cereal aisle, and she was stunned, unsure how to respond.
We were eight.
Her son’s valentines had been stuffed in the shoe box I had decorated the day before, all red construction paper and doilies. You hoped to get one valentine from every child in class, those flimsy cardboard things, stuffed in even flimsier envelopes. My haul that year was magnificent, thanks to Mike.
Another Valentine’s Day, and I am away at college. There, on the counter of the front desk of the dorm were flowers for me. A dozen long-stemmed red roses, in a box. A box. With a little cellophane window, and a card attached to it. I rearranged the card so my name was more visible to all who passed by, and left them there for over an hour for full effect.
I wonder now what I would have done with long-stemmed roses. In a tiny dorm room, cell-like and spartan, I can’t imagine I had a vase sufficient to hold them. Perhaps the hall director loaned me one.
But to this day I can attest these were the best flowers I ever received for the sheer drama of it, and I remember them, and the boy who sent them.
And then, this other Valentine’s Day.
My pal, Alice, and I were in the habit of spending Thursday afternoons together, under the premise of writing our great works. We wrote together exactly once. We continued to meet each Thursday—her husband was out of town every Thursday night, so she was a free agent —and we took advantage of the time to poke around town and go out to eat.
We are not particularly fussy about where we go, yet we are indecisive. We spend lots of time not caring and then rejecting every suggestion made by the other, until we finally settle, half an hour later, on our destination.
This one rainy February Thursday we headed out into the dark, looking forward to our dinners at a place we agreed upon quickly. The parking lot was full. People were huddled under the awning. We didn’t even bother pulling into the parking lot. We were surprised, but flexible, so we headed toward our second choice.
Same thing. Overflowing parking lot. People spilling out the door. And the third place. Same. The traffic, too, just terrible for six o’clock on a Thursday night.
We settled on our favorite Mexican place because there were spaces left to park. We stood crushed against the patrons waiting to be seated, the door half-open, letting in waves of cold air and rain. I wondered out loud what was going on, we had never seen it so crowded on a weeknight.
“It’s Valentine’s Day,” a helpful woman said. We laughed at ourselves for not knowing, our lives so pitiful the day slipped our notice. They laughed at us, too, those couples who were making the questionable choice of Mexican on this night, but perhaps they couldn’t get in their first choice, either.
And now that one, too, is a memorable Valentine’s Day. When Alice and I think we are in the mood for Mexican food, we no longer call it by its name, but rather “our special place.” If we are out tearing up the roads and we see the restaurant is having a busy day, one of us might mutter, “Must be Valentine’s Day.”
And that is just fine, too. I’ll take it all—the little cards from smitten boys, the flowers, old friends, and dear hearts. Just as St. Valentine intended.