Sentimental Valentines

I can’t see pink, red, and white construction paper and doilies without remembering my time at Fulton Elementary School and how we (and young children everywhere) prepared for the annual Valentine’s Day celebrations during those years.

My second grade school picture. Mrs. Harmon was our teacher that year. I still remember her chuckle and occasional laugh,

In kindergarten and first grade we made these open envelopes out of big pieces of construction paper. We glued the sides with globs of Elmer’s Glue and learned to cut out various-shaped hearts which we then used to decorate our mail slots. We eventually wrote our names with a chunky red Crayola Crayon, and taped our envelope carefully to the side of our desk. During the Valentine’s Party, we played mail carrier, delivering our carefully signed cards, merrily depositing our missives in each classmate’s pouch. By second and third grades, we had moved up to cheerfully decorated cereal boxes. Fourth grade we had finally arrived: construction-paper-covered shoe boxes.

For me, the Valentines preparations took several evenings seriously concentrating at the kitchen table, studying the class list and my little box of cards. I made special selections for my closest friends: Donna, Darlene, Dawn, Theresa, Dianna. Even more studied decisions for the boys–Larry, Robby, Chip—nothing could say “I Love You” or even “Would You Be My Valentine?”  No way. I wanted nothing to be misunderstood. Even more scrutiny for Jimmy who since 1st grade regularly passed the timeless “Do you love me? ____yes or ___no?” to which I always responded with my own addition: “I like you as a friend.” I went over the cards and list again and again until I was satisfied.

The same twenty-five schoolmates traveled with me from Kindergarten, to First Grade, then Second. The same twenty-five children in little plaid dresses or little plaid shirts and jeans excitedly passed out their carefully addressed cards. Then we sat and opened the tiny envelopes, smiling at each other, occasionally blushing by something extra sweet.

We played our usual games: Bingo, Hang Man, Seven-up. One year we even had a pinata. Usually our teachers gave us a little box of conversation hearts, and we spent time sorting and eating those chalky treats. The ever-prepared “Room Mothers” supplied us with lots of sugar: chocolate cupcakes with white frosting dotted with red hots, red Kool-aide punch, popcorn balls. I bet our poor teachers had to “put their feet up” when they got home. (If only educators had known about red dye and its effects on behavior back then…)

Our teachers at Fulton Elementary School. My grandmother, who taught 4th grade, is second from the right. They were all fair, no-nonsense teachers. My friends and I received a solid education and strict discipline, if we needed it.

I loved all the Charlie Brown specials, but “Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown” broke my heart. I always felt so sorry for Charlie Brown: his empty mailbox, his painful crush on the little red-haired girl, his predictable disappointment. I always hoped for the best for him: suddenly the Peanuts Gang would be kind. Perhaps this year would be different. His mailbox would be full. No more “You’re a blockhead, Charlie Brown.” At their Valentine’s party, the gang would surround his desk, shouting “You’re a great guy, Charlie Brown!” Sadly, that never happened. 

I kept those sweet valentines close to me for many years. When I was sick or even cleaning my room, I often sat and looked through my little box of cards.  Today, when my girlfriends and I vintage shop, I look for and often purchase a few little Valentines signed so carefully in thick pencil by a child fifty years ago, and I remember and appreciate the anticipation and effort it involved.

Part of my vintage card collection.

 And I wouldn’t be surprised if there is still a faded, covered shoe box of Valentines from these dear ones of my past tucked in the closet of my childhood bedroom. When I take my mother’s Valentine to her this year in the old farmhouse, I’ll have to remember to check: I sure hope it’s still there.

It’s a Fine Life

Winter

Today the house is quiet. The holiday frenzy is done, the children have gone home, and the “undecorating” is nearly finished. I have stripped the guest beds, filled the birdfeeders, and assessed the leftovers in the refrigerator. Winter is here. 

As the quiet cold creeps into our yards, our village, our lives, we begin to fully appreciate our hearth and home.  Edith Sitwell states “Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.” So true. It is the season of comforting foods and candlelight warming the walls at night: it is a season of beauty with frosty mornings and cardinals searching for seeds in the snow. It is a season for trips to the library and mugs of hot coffee.

We watch the weather reports, the doppler radar, the thermometer drop, anticipating a storm’s approach, and, as always, I recall those beautiful days of my childhood. 

Dad was always one for adventures, and if it included a bit of risk, I think he found it even more enjoyable. Four years old, I stand on the seat of our Falcon, looking out the back window. The snow, powdery and light, joins the exhaust in plumes behind the car as my mother tows my dad on his skis. Holding the taut rope, he swoops out into the fields along the gravel roads, somehow managing to miss posts and ditches, avoiding a tremendous wipe out on the icy roads. I hold my breath as my own Jean Claude Killee disappears and reappears in the clouds of powder. I think that only happened once, as my mother’s common sense must have beat out Dad’s ever-ready adrenaline and appreciation of an adoring audience.

Many times my brothers and I listened excitedly to WKZO Radio, AM 590, so convinced school would be cancelled. We waited and waited through the long list of districts, fingers crossed, toes crossed, breath held, as the announcer neared the end of the alphabet and the V’s approached. “Union City, Vestaburg, Vicksburg…all closed today.” Oh the joy, the squeals, the ecstasy of the hours of freedom and adventures ahead.

Our farm, always a ready playground, included a sledding hill behind our grandmother’s house. It was a long, long hike through the stubble of a cornfield, so often our dad would tie the toboggan to the back of the tractor and toss our saucers and sleds in the tractor’s bucket. We would ride the toboggan or perch on a tractor fender, and my dad would join us for several hours of exhausting fun: quick slides down and long climbs back up the slope. Sometimes we even had a little fire to warm our hands or a thermos of hot chocolate to enjoy, but usually we just climbed and slid and climbed again until we were sweaty and limp at the hill’s bottom.

My town friends had other snow-day offerings: hockey and skating on the mill pond, sledding at “the hill,” and friends within walking distance to join in the fun.

Timeless snow play. Our little girls, 6 and 4, after a January snow.

These times with our own children included snow play with neighbor children, cup after cup of hot chocolate with graham crackers, and piles of wet snow gear–the damp wool mittens and hats, the incense of our home on those wonderful days.

It’s a Fine Life.