Much of the world celebrates today, February 14th, as Valentine’s Day.
Are you celebrating Valentine’s Day this year? I’m wondering just who among us is.
If you’re one of the lucky ones who have a loving spouse or an ardent beau, you’re probably celebrating this year.
I was a member of that fortunate group during my loving marriage to my darling husband. Our blissful marriage came to a halt only because a terrible disease ended my husband’s life. I like to think that we’d still be celebrating our love today if he’d survived.
Since he died, I’ve had one or two romantic liaisons with others, but at this moment I’m in a different place. Today my kids and grandkids are my primary givers and recipients of valentine cards and gifts, red and pink hearts splashed all over them.
Of course, today is a bonanza for some commercial enterprises. Americans spent about $21 billion on Valentine’s Day in 2021, and experts predict that nearly $24 billion will be spent this year, making today the fifth largest spending event of the year (after the winter holidays and Mother’s Day). Will inflation and supply-chain issues affect these totals? Valentine’s Day is probably inflation-proof, and delightful gifts can always be tracked down.
Benefiting the most are florists (about $2.3 billion), purveyors of chocolates ($2.2 billion), jewelers ($6.2 billion), and sellers of other heart-emblazoned cards and gifts.
Which raises another question. Aside from elementary-school kids, required to bring a valentine for every other kid in class to avoid any Charlie-Brown-style left-out feelings, is anyone still buying valentine cards this year?
I hope so. I’d hate to see an end to the decades-long practice of sending sweet wishes to loved ones and friends on February 14th
While we’re still stuck in the middle of a pandemic, confronting scary international events, and facing ongoing political divisiveness, I find it heartening to recall happier, simpler times.
Today I’m thinking about an old friend and the valentines he gave me many years ago.
My friend (I’ll call him Alan R.) grew up with me on the Far North Side of Chicago. We were in a pack of friends who attended the nearby elementary school. This was back when all of us walked to school, walked home for lunch, and walked back to school again for the afternoon.
In 5th grade, I acquired a handsome “boyfriend.” (Although we thought of each other as “boyfriend” and “girlfriend,” those terms simply meant that we had some sort of pre-teen crush on each other.) My best friend Helene had a major crush on my boyfriend, but I was the lucky girl for whom he made a misshapen plastic pin when he went away to camp that summer.
By the fall, Alan R. had replaced him.
Alan was never one of the best-looking boys in our class. He was tall for his age and somewhat awkward, and he tended to be rather hefty. But he had a pleasant face and a pleasant way about him, and he became my 6th grade “boyfriend.”
In October that year, he invited a whole bunch of us to a Halloween party at his house. Helene and I decided to don similar outfits—black t-shirts and skinny black skirts. For some reason, we were trying to look like French “apache dancers.” I wasn’t really sure what that term even meant, but I suspect that Helene’s savvy mother inspired us to choose that costume. However it came about, we knew we looked terrific in our very cool garb. We may have even added a beret to top it off.
Alan played the gracious host, and when the party wound down, he led us outside, and all of us paraded through the neighborhood, knocking on doors and yelling “trick or treat.” It was a truly memorable Halloween, probably the most memorable Halloween of my childhood.
I don’t have a clear recollection of the next few months. The days must have been filled with other parties, school events, and happy family outings. But I definitely have a vivid memory of Valentine’s Day the following February.
When my classmates and I exchanged valentines, I discovered that Alan had given me two. Not one. Two. And they weren’t the ordinary valentines you gave your friends. These were store-bought pricier versions. One was sentimental, flowery, and very sweet. The other one was funny and made me laugh.
What exactly inspired Alan to show his affection for me that way? We were fond of each other, but I don’t remember giving him a special valentine.
Looking back, I wonder about his decision to give me those two valentines. Did he choose them by himself? Did he have enough money saved from his 6th-grade-level allowance to pay for them?
As a mother, I can’t help wondering about the role his mother may have played. Did she accompany him to the card store on Devon Avenue, the one where we all bought our valentines? (A long-gone kind of neighborhood store most of us patronized back then.) Was his mother standing next to him when he bought his valentines, offering her advice? If she was, what did she think of this extravagance on his part?
I like to think that Alan came up with the idea and executed it all by himself. He saved his money and brought it to the store with the firm intention to buy a valentine for me. Then, when he saw the colorful display of cards in front of him, he couldn’t decide whether to show his affection with a flowery card or to try to make me laugh with a funny one.
So he bought one of each, and, head held high, he gave both of them to me.
I hope I exhibited a response that pleased him. I can’t remember exactly what I did. But I know that his delightful gesture has stayed with me ever since.
Sadly, those valentines disappeared when my mother scoured our home one day and tossed everything she considered inconsequential. But they weren’t inconsequential to me. I still remember the thrill of receiving not one but two valentines from my caring beau.
Everything changed in 7th grade. A new school, new boyfriends, and new issues at home when my father’s health grew worrisome. As always, life moved on.
Alan R. died a few years ago, and I wrote this story about him then. He and I had drifted apart long before he died, but his fondness for me during 6th grade never faded from my memory.
Did Alan’s flattering attention give me the confidence to deal with some of the rocky times that lay ahead? Teenage years can be tough. Mine often were. But his two-valentine tribute stayed with me forever.
Thanks, dear Alan, for being a warm and caring young person, even at the age of 12. Although our lives went on to have their rough patches, the valentines you gave me back in 6th grade have never been forgotten.