Tom’s World — Valentine (back in the) Day
By Tom Westfall
When I was in grade school, nearly 60 years ago, Valentine’s Day was full of anticipation, anxiety and sometimes, sweet memories. Back in the day, our “art” projects the week or so prior to Valentine’s Day were always a shoe box, decorated with red and white hearts, with a slot cut out on the top of the box for the delivery of said valentines. On occasion a decorated “sack” could substitute for a shoe box, but that was only if the teacher wasn’t sure she could round up enough shoe boxes for the kids who only wore hand-me-downs, and thus never really possessed a shoe box.
Well before political correctness dictated that “if you gave anyone a valentine, you had to give EVERYONE a valentine” the anticipation and anxiety associated with this day was created by the reality that your box could be filled with valentines from all of your classmates; or you could be a proverbial “Charlie Brown” and only get a card from someone whose parents, even back then, understood that it wasn’t polite to shun anyone.
For Charlie Brown, it was the little red-haired girl that caused him great angst. He never did receive a valentine from her and as he so famously opined, “nothing ruins a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, like unrequited love.”
For me in first grade, it was Sue Ann Cleveland. She was the most interesting, beautiful girl I’d ever seen and I was sure that Valentine’s Day was going to be the perfect opportunity to declare, via a steamy valentine, my intentions of being her boyfriend.
There were twenty-some kids in my first grade class in Cynthiana, Indiana. Valentines back then, cost about a penny a piece and came in packages of 15. This meant that in order to get enough valentines to insure that everyone in my class received one (yes, my mom was one of those) I had to purchase two packages. The advantage was that this meant a doubling of the really “good” valentine messages (such as the little train engine with the quip, “I choo-choo-choose you.”) The disadvantage was that this also meant that several of my classmates were destined to receive the same valentine, a social faux pas even by first grade standards.
Oh well, never mind the disadvantages; I knew that I had to select the very finest valentine for Sue Ann, one that would let her know that I was her knight in shining armor. I scraped together thirty cents (collected pop bottles in the alleys in town for a couple of weeks, and redeemed them at 2 cents a bottle) and headed off to the drug store to purchase the vehicle through which my message of undying love would be revealed.
Upon arriving home, I ripped open the package and began rummaging through them, trying to find the perfect one that would accurately reflect my infatuation. I immediately eschewed the one with the elephant that said, “I’ll never forget you’re my Valentine.” After all, I didn’t want her associating elephants with my admiration. I did briefly consider the one that pictured a cowboy with a lasso saying, “Sure as shootin’ I want to rope you as my Valentine.”
I was blessed that in the two packages I purchased, there were a number of cards that just said, “Howdy Pardner; Happy Valentine’s Day.” This was the card I choose for just about everyone else in the class, especially the boys. I did run short and had to give several classmates a card featuring a ship blowing its horn, saying, “Toot, toot; let’s be Valentines.”
I did note that in the package there were several cards spotlighting smiling girls who were saying things like, “My ‘tulips’ are for you, Valentine,” and “I’ll be ‘sew’ nice to you if you’ll be mine.” Hope sprung eternal.
Ultimately, the card I choose for Sue Ann featured a large ear of corn that read, “It’s ‘corny’ to say, but shucks…I’d like to ear you say that you’ll be my Valentine today.” This card had it all; a clever witticism all wrapped up in the ultimate statement of my unending fidelity.
On Valentine’s Day we all brought our cards to school and placed them in each other’s shoe box. Late afternoon arrived and the party was on. I watched in eager anticipation as Sue Ann opened hers. I saw her smile; then chuckle. It had to be my card but as I saw her scanning the room, she caught someone else’s eye and sort of blushed. This couldn’t be happening. Someone else had stolen my thunder.
I sat numbly staring into space. Finally I opened my cards. Mostly they said, “Howdy Pardner…” When I got to Sue Ann’s I paused, took a deep breath and opened it. It featured a girl in a row boat saying, “Valentine, you’re swell.”
Westfall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.