While I was growing up, Valentine’s Day was all about show. You show me your valentine and I’ll show you mine.
The teacher wrapped a cardboard box in white paper, decorated it with red hearts and cut a slit for valentine cards. During the week before the big day, students brought their valentines and filled the box. They were more concerned with the quantity, rather than the quality, of valentines they received.
The girls counted their valentines and showed them to each other with a giggle here and there; some of the boys were more demonstrative. One boy used one of his valentines to goose a girl who licked out her red candy-coated tongue at him on the way back to her seat.
I remember a few choice captions on my valentines. One carried a picture of a dog with the caption: “I woof you; be mine.” Another valentine was a cutout of a dog standing on his hind legs with his tongue hanging out, showing the words: “I’m doggone over you.” It was signed: “Guess Who!”
I could tell who the “Guess Who” was by the ear-to-ear grin I was getting from a certain boy who had already gotten me in trouble by sending notes via other students. Sometimes the student who got the note couldn’t resist a peek, and so on until the note got to me. Too much movement, as it made its rounds, caught the teacher’s eye. She read it and the boy and I ended up with our noses facing opposite corners of the classroom for a half hour.
One student seated behind me persisted in tapping my arm with his pencil when I refused to turn around after he gave me a valentine. When I kept resisting he broke the pencil lead off in my elbow, leaving a permanent mark after my mother got the lead out.
As a consequence, I, as a pre-teen, viewed the word “boyfriend” as another name for boybonic plague.
During my teen years, I liked valentine cards with red silk hearts puffed full of perfumed powder and trimmed with ribbons.
Since then I’ve learned that the “Be Mine” valentine heart with its symmetrical shape has a false kinship with the organ beating in my chest.
Most couples discover early in a courtship that only the heart in their valentine is in perfect symmetry. A couple’s heartfelt expressions of love are not as perfect, though there can be perfect moments to counter those not so perfect.
Soon after I was married, along came Marabel Morgan with a book titled The Total Woman, a book to take women from one Valentine’s Day to the next. She suggested that women perform such silly capers as meeting their husbands at the door in Saran Wrap. She must have thought women were leftovers on legs.
Morgan also suggested spraying satin bedsheets with perfume.
If my husband came home and caught me spraying our bedsheets with perfume and murmuring – another Morgan suggestion − “Honey bun, hot cakes, um, um, ah,” he’d think I was delirious or that the water in the waterbed we didn’t have had gone to my brain.
Once when I received an Oscar de la Renta perfumed sample card in the mail, I pushed it under his nose.
He murmured, “Um! Where can you get a gallon of that?”
When I showed him the price: $175 for 30 millilitres, he grunted and asked, “What cat did Oscar beat that out of?”
He was being humorous, a necessary component of love.
Imagine my surprise when one day he phoned me and his first words were, “Are you caught up in the whimsicalities of life?”
I laughed so hard that, if I had been wearing Saran Wrap as Morgan suggested, it would have burst at the seams. The unexpected moment can be the most romantic moment of all.
I overheard a teenager ask her boyfriend, “Why don’t you do something to please me?”
He replied: “I’m living, aren’t I?”
Now there’s a couple who needs more than a valentine card to romance their relationship.
The true attributes of love are not found in the generic lines on a commercial card. They are found between a couple in a relationship that does not make either of them feel vulnerable and open to be taken advantage of. It’s easy to say, “I love you.” It’s harder to do “I love you.” Balancing what one can give to a relationship with what one can take from it in kindness and consideration is the litmus test.
Love means more than gratification between the bedsheets. It requires a physical connection on an emotional level in many ways: sometimes in conversations that allow a couple to explore each other’s core, perhaps in smiles connecting across a room, or in one lover taking hold of a partner’s hand and tucking it in theirs.
Poets may express themselves in poetry, singers in song, musicians in music. These are romantic and sincere expressions. Others can find their own expressions to keep love alive and alert. Little unexpected gestures can put loving into living all year long: the hallmark of true valentines in action.
The romance in a relationship may lose some of its zip as couples age, parts giving out along with all the electrical appliances in the house. But there can remain a steady, comfortable romance in the certainty that after many years in a relationship two people know they are made for each other.
Happy Valentine’s Day to those living in love for the moment and those living in love beyond the valentine.
— Nellie P. Strowbridge, an author of several books, is from Hibb's Cove, Port de Grave.