That piece of red construction paper was the perfect size to wrap all the way around an empty oatmeal box. Scotch tape the seam together, then cut out a pink heart to glue on the side. Don’t forget to cover the lid, after cutting the all important slot. Use a red ink pen to write your name on the pink heart, and it’s a perfect mailbox for the valentines the kids at school are bound to bring you.
The next few minutes before bedtime were spent addressing the tiny envelopes that accompanied the cards your mom had bought for you to hand out. There was a science to this. You started with the most special friends. They got the biggest, or the cutest cards. The ones that said “Valentine, you’re the best”. The rest, those that just said “Be Mine” or “Have Fun” went to the kids you rarely gave a second glance. As long as each name got checked off the list. No-one was left out of our elementary school Valentine’s Day.
Most February Fourteenths in high school passed with only cards from our parents or siblings. I do, however, remember a stuffed purple elephant that came from a boy I admired. I Wonder what happened to that guy? He probably found someone who appreciated his tender, if unconventional efforts to share his heart.
After finding my true love, I set out to impress him, especially on Cupid’s favorite day. One year, my sister and I both decided to make our way to a man’s heart via his stomach. We prepared a supper of spaghetti, French bread and salad. I suppose these dishes were successful, but the most memorable part of the meal was the dessert. I fashioned a heart-shaped cake by making one layer in a square pan, and another in a round one. When the timer signaled that the cakes were done, I allowed them to cool, then sliced the circle in half, and placed the pieces just so against the square that had been turned to look like a diamond. Voila, a heart ready for strawberry icing. While we prepared the table, this masterpiece was doing its own settling. Just before I brought it to the table, I noticed that one side of the heart was sagging, creating a jagged crack. Undaunted, I filled the crevice with the red-hot cinnamon candies I’d purchased to decorate the cake. I can’t vouch for my sister’s date, but mine still reminds me of this creation thirty some odd years later.
After we said “I do”, and children were added to the household, my circle of Valentine recipients widened again. I made sure that each of the kids had a little something from Mom along with the cards they were taking to their schoolmates. Somewhere in a box in our attic are three hand-sewed heart shaped pillows made from valentiney material and trimmed with lace. These treasures had an honored spot on their beds when they were living at home, and I’m sure they prompted some pretty good pillow fights after Mom and Dad’s bedroom lights were turned out.
When our nest began to empty, boxes of cards and candy were mailed to dorm rooms and newlywed homes. I even discovered that I could pack freshly-baked brownies in a Tupperware container, and pack it securely for a trip to another corner of the state. Miraculously, these dishes always seemed to come back to me for refilling.
Grandkids added to the excitement, and I began looking for brightly colored cards that said “With love from Granny and Grandpa”. Mailing something was not nearly as good as those in-person hugs and smiles from chocolate covered faces. With these new additions to the family, I began to realize that Valentine’s Day could last all year long.
This year, we plan to spend time with two of those grands while their parents take advantage of a rare date night together. Grandpa and I will push back our celebration to the next night, when it is my turn to come up with a gourmet meal.
The important thing? Don’t forget to acknowledge those you love. Whether it’s a home cooked meal, a sappy card or silly gift, remembering is the whole point. Hearts are made for sharing, whether they are made from calico and lace, or drippy icing with red-hot candies. Giving warms your insides, and the memories last a lifetime.