Hearts and Flowers
As I licked the stamp on the Valentine for my mother, I became conscious once more of a vague sense of unease and disquiet. I’ve had that same uncomfortable feeling for half a century before Valentine’s Day.
The trauma of the event at Mallory Grade School apparently had an ineradicable impact on my tender psyche.
About the first week in February, fifth grade teacher Miss Lutie Nichols would with appropriate fanfare, place an empty grocery box, illy disguised with crepe paper hearts, at her desk, describing it as “Our Valentine Mail Box.” That’s about when my stomach first began to feel queasy.
Valentine Day was an event awaited with eager anticipation by many of the students in that little frame school building, squeezed between Huff Creek and the railroad spur running up to Cleaneagle Mine. Others looked forward to it with about as much joy as undergoing a root canal. My sister, with blonde curls and “cute”, was a happy occupant of the first category. I, the second. She brought home armloads of valentines, I generally only three or four, none of which, in the rigid prevailing fifth grade value point system, counted for a whole lot.
Ranking at the very top, scoring a “perfect 10” in the Mallory Grade School Valentine Olympic competition, was a store bought card. To pay good money, a commodity in somewhat short supply in the Logan County of those depression years, for a Valentine was the epitome of devil-may care reckless spending. The recipient of a store bought Valentine was transported into raptures of delight. One year my sister brought home three of these, plus 14 homemade jobs, making her easily, the undisputed Valentine champion of the entire school.
That was the year I got one from Miss Lutie, which had no point value whatever, since that kindhearted soul was careful always to drop in one Valentine for every class member. I received one homemade Valentine card from Lucy Jenkins. It didn’t count in the competition either, because the Jenkins were our nearest neighbors, and the ruthless rules committee was quick to point out that parental pressure rather than boy-girl affection was responsible for dispatch of Valentine in these instances. That year my third and last one was a “comic” (remember those ill-starred missives: Your ugly face, O! What a sight! It makes us run to douse the light!”). Receiving one of these meant points off in the overall standings.
Really, a doomed prisoner walking the last mile toward his execution would have seemed to gambol in comparison as how sadly, how reluctantly went our march up to Miss Lutie’s desk when the “mail box” emptied and the knowledge came that all that possibility could be left inside were the less desirable home made and the unspeakable “comics.”
In retrospect, I realize that much of my antipathy toward Valentine’s Day is related to distressing lack if manual dexterity. How often did I mix flour and water for paste, take scissors in hand and try to produce a passable Valentine, only to fail miserably. My paste either left huge clumps under what was designed to be a dainty frame, or was so thin it possessed no adhesive quality whatever.
My cut-out hearts always were askew. My messages which began large, bold flourish at one end so that the “Happy” was easily deciphered because of space limitations found my “Day” at the end of that line squeezed into such tiny dimensions it resembled microdots.
After many anguished hours of effort, which left flour paste plastered all over overalls and hair, tiny pieces of paper scattered everywhere, my Valentines little resembled the fanciful creations gracing the stationery counter of Murphy’s in Logan, then the area’s Saks Fifth Avenue.
I always picked out what I considered the very best one I’d made for my mother. Bless her heart, she never laughed at the effort. Mother’s don’t.
My peers, it must be confessed, did not accept my poor offerings with such equanimity. Without even looking at carefully printed signature, they’d open the envelope, look at the messy creation, and chortle, “One of Kelly’s!”
This was understandable. (In seventh grade manual training class I was the only student who never got past the very first exercise, using a plane to make square the surface of a board. Handicapped because of being left-handed, I merrily whittled away at the board for an entire semester. Other boys in the class made little wooden stools. My contribution was a pile of shavings. (I passed the course only, according to my long suffering teacher, because of the strenuous effort I put into the matter.)
It was in the same spirit that I approached the Day. I tried hard to act as if I really were enjoying it all. I didn’t.
And still there remains a vague feeling of unease produced by Valentine’s Day. It has now persisted for more than half a century. I keep hoping to get rid of it one of these years.