I fell deeply in love with Valentine’s Day on the day my mother let me buy a box of Valentines for my classmates in third grade. My love affair with February 14 had started in first grade when our teacher handed out red and pink construction paper, Elmer’s glue, and scissors. But the cute little cartoon Valentines in the box stole my heart. You can download them from your computer now, but it isn’t the same as going to the drug store and buying the exact box you want.
In my elementary school, if you gave a Valentine to one person, you had to give them to everyone. I still remember that in sixth grade, Barry Reed didn’t give me one. I can’t tell you why he chose not to, but I felt so hurt. I still feel chagrined when I think about it. Back then, it fed on my low self esteem. Not that I hold a grudge, but I really never talked to him again…even when he was seated in front of me in Sophomore English. For the whole year, I ignored him. Instead, I chose to talk to Jimmy Hendrix who was on my left.
Another Valentine favorite of mine through the years is the box of Sweetheart candies. My mother, ahead of her time, didn’t allow us sugar…except for these little sweeties. Here’s the history behind these heart-shaped messaging candies. They are actually the descendants of NECCO candies, which were the offspring of lozenges created by pharmacist and inventor Oliver Chase. In 1866, his brother suggested they print “love messages” on the candy for Valentine’s Day. In 1901, they became heart shaped. In today’s world, messages include: TEXT ME.
There are many legends about who Saint Valentine actually was and how February 14 became associated with romance. It seems that Valentine was a popular name during the Roman Empire so it could have been one of the many early Christians martyred at the time. The story I liked was about Valentinus, who secretly married Christian couples. He was ordered beheaded by Claudius II. If you’re ever in Ireland, you can go to Dublin’s Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church to see a relic of Saint Valentine and a shrine to him. Many people do make this pilgrimage to pray for finding true love.
My husband has a mixed record on Valentine’s Day. One year he gave me a diamond and sapphire heart—I treasure it to this day. Other years, there’s been nothing or worse, wilting flowers from the grocery store. If it’s the thought that counts, either he is a loser or I am. One year we were in Africa on safari. Moe didn’t even think to bring a card but our friend Earl brought his wife, two. Moe tried to buy the second one, but Earl refused. Neither has ever lived it down.
I admit that I love greeting cards. February, especially in Seattle where I lived until I was 45, is a very dreary month. Valentines brightened the days. I’ve always given my grandkids a Valentine and a box of Sweethearts. Now that three are in college, I still send them Valentines, with a little spending money included. It’s an opportunity to say “I love you” in the middle of winter without being grandmother mushy. They like the Sweethearts too.