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Valentine Reflections

Four months before our first Valentines Day.

Four months before our first Valentines Day.

My husband and I are not the sort of couple that have a lot of complicated rules about “our relationship”. Seldom are there occasions that “we need to talk”. Part of it is that we are both incredibly immature for our ages and that sort of activity might seem too grown up for our liking. One rule that I do have that he has committed to memory is “no flowers on Valentines day”. Don’t get me wrong, I love flowers! I just think that flowers any other day of the year are both more economical and thoughtful. The first Valentines Day after we met he was living in Mankato Minnesota and I was residing in the college town of Menomonie Wisconsin. He called me that evening when we were both done with work and after asking how each others days were and the typical small talk he sheepishly asked “so did anything arrive today?” and my answer was “No”. He had ordered flowers for me well in advance but for whatever reason they were not delivered to me and he felt horrible about it. I appreciated the gesture and I thought the flowers were lovely when they arrived the next day but I never wanted him to stress like that again on my behalf.

I’m awkward. In high school when I was home with mono over Valentine’s Day a really nice guy stopped by to see how I was doing, as he left he gave me what obviously was a Valentine and I said thanks and tossed it on the couch as I walked him toward the door. This was not some elementary school Valentine that came 30 to a box, this was a serious Hallmark card that the poor guy had selected specifically for me. It was simply too much for me to handle. I felt ambushed and though I’m sure he wasn’t expecting me to have a reciprocal card for him that was all I was familiar with to this stage. I’m not certain that I ever even acknowledged the card beyond my nonchalant toss of it. All these years later I still feel guilty for his effort and my dopey adolescent reaction.

Elementary school, that is where Valentines Day reigned supreme! There was the crafting of your mail box that was the receptacle for receipt of you Valentines, which it was mandatory for each of your classmates to give you. Paper doilies and festive construction paper (cut in heart shapes) applied with that minty scented school paste made for a beautiful creation. Lake Harriet Elementary had what was a somewhat unique tradition, an Indoor Picnic. During that era in the Minneapolis Public Schools kids went home for lunch. The majority of moms were not working outside the home and after clearing the breakfast dishes and doing some laundry  they prepared lunch for their children to come home to. I lived a half a block from school and had a 90 minute lunch period, as some of my classmates had nearly a mile to walk to their homes near Lake Calhoun. Indoor Picnics took place on Halloween, before Christmas break (yep, that’s we called it then) and Valentines Day. The day consisted of making a place mat for your desk that was suitably festive for the holiday being honored. The hallways of the school were soon fragrant with the scent of boiling hot dogs from the basement kitchen. It was a PTA fundraiser and all of the important moms were there assembling the lunches they charged a quarter for. There was the hot dog in a doughy bun that had been wrapped in a paper napkin, a bag of potato chips, a large bakery cookie and a milk or an orange drink. It was an incredibly exciting event as the class lined up to wash their hands and a PTA mom distributed the fine cuisine in their individual brown bags. It took about 10 minutes to eat those lunches, everyone was sort of in a hurry to get to the Valentine distribution. Depending on the weather we were typically required to bundle up and take a recess at this point. In retrospect, I think this was a time when the nonsmoking teachers supervised the playground while the smokers headed to the staff lounge and discussed if it might be better to just make a contribution to the PTA and have them eliminate these Indoor Picnics.

After recess was when the real fun began, the distribution “in a calm and orderly fashion” (sure, I’m in first grade and I just had lunch at school and am about to get Valentines) of the Valentine cards and any additional treats. It was just too much, boxes of chalky conversation hearts, mini boxes of Red Hots, an entire roll of cherry Lifesavers! After all of the deliveries were completed then it was time to open them and (depending on the penmanship) see who they were from. There were duplicates, homemade ones, the ones that were from the same variety pack as yours that came from Kennesaw Drugs (that you could almost see on the next block from your classroom window).

You would think that would be about all a kid could handle but then we got to head down to the gymnasium to sit on the tiled floor and watch a movie. I probably saw The Red Balloon a dozen times in that gym. For the Christmas Indoor Picnic it was an ancient black and white Twelve Days of Christmas that had music instead of audio. A silent movie that was probably about the same age as the school. Then we returned to our classroom and packed up whatever project we had created as a gift for our parents to commemorate the holiday. No math, no reading, just art and eating and still the graduation rates were higher then.

As an adult I know that a lot of people celebrate Valentines Day because of me. I have introduced several couples who have walked down the aisle and some of them have produced children of their own who participate in whatever today’s version of Valentine’s Day in school is. I am a cupid and think that for many people going through life with a companion is better than going it alone but when it comes to Valentines Day it is the small gestures and surprises that I appreciate most. Of all the days in the year it is the one that should have the least pressure but somehow creates the most.

Go easy on yourself and whether you spend this year watching the Olympics alone with a frozen pizza or get down on one knee to ask someone to spend every future Valentines Day with you, know that it is the other 364 days of the year that truly define you and not this one. I wonder how Jeff would feel if I suggested chips and boiled hotdogs for dinner tomorrow?

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