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Valentine Memories


It’s hard to ignore Valentine promotions. Big box stores dedicate aisles to red and pink candies, stuffed animals, balloons, tableware, and other items most of us don’t need. Flower shops depend on profits generated by lovers sending bouquets to their sweethearts. Card stores tempt us to send our partners expensive cards declaring true love. It’s the February assault on our winter-dulled senses, and we’re all gullible—me included. I love getting posies from my husband.

Despite my adult vulnerability to this over-promoted holiday, kids really know how to celebrate it best. They spend considerable time using construction paper, crayons, and glue to craft personal mailboxes for their friends to fill with corny cards signed in childish scrawl, which are then folded, and tucked into thin envelopes that would never make it through the U.S. mail.

As much as I loved room-mother hosted Halloween and Christmas parties in primary school, the Valentine bash is the one I most anticipated. In the weeks before the event, I hoarded scraps of colored paper, bits of lace or rick-rack, and dug about in drawers hoping I might find some hidden glitter.

The weekend before the big day, I spent in my room, constructing my treasure box. First, I sorted through old shoe-boxes to find one that wasn’t too bashed in from being Barbie or Ken’s race car. It also needed a lid so I could use my tiny scissors to open a Valentine Card size slit.

Once I had the mail opening in a suitable carton, the wrapping challenge began. My mom would help if needed, but she believed children design their own projects, which sometimes led to some interesting corners and edges in the finished product. Until I was a teacher, I couldn’t understand why some of my friend’s containers had such sharp and perfect lines. They’d had a great deal of adult assistance.

Covering the rectangle in red or pink paper was only the beginning. Once I accomplished that, the real fun began. I got to snip around dozens of little embellishments: hearts, lips, dorky cupids, and fluffy clouds. My imagination was the only limit to the possibilities. At that point, I’d never heard of white space in a design, so I went whole-hog in applying my little cutouts everywhere I could dab a glob of glue.

After ornamenting my once plain shoe box, I set it up to dry. I then tackled picking out the prettiest cards for my best friends from the little box of Valentines mom and I selected at the dime store. I had to be sure I didn’t give any too friendly ones to boys with cooties.

In those days, kids didn’t learn to write their names until kindergarten, so my handwriting still looked an awful lot like chicken scratches in first and second grade. It took a while to sign off on those annual missives to my classmates.

The best part of Valentines was coming home with the now scraggly container filled with little white envelopes. Some of the kids had added a sucker or a candy heart to their notes. I loved sitting on my bed and opening each one. I savored admiring the clever drawings, figuring out the funny sayings printed on each card, and deciphering my class-mates crooked lettering. I’m sure more than once, I fell asleep surrounded by this sweet dream-generating loot.