Beyond Candy Hearts and Chocolates

Valentine’s Day 2022 is history now, but I’m going to pay homage to it, anyway. It’s a nice mid-winter interlude, and the celebration gives us a smidgen of hope for spring … even though stores rush it (like every holiday) by putting out Valentine’s Day cards on Dec. 26. I swear I’ve seen that at Target.

When PrimeTime readers were school kids, we hand-decorated shoe boxes for Valentine’s cards, gluing on cut-out paper hearts and bits of ribbons and lace using rubber cement or LePage’s glue. I preferred rubber cement. I loved the smell. I loved the smell of gasoline back then, too. I probably killed more than a few brain cells as a child, but oops, I digress. Elementary school Valentine’s Day parties were highly anticipated. Cards were exchanged and cupcakes consumed … and girls hoped against hope that the cute boy sitting a table over (that never gave them a minute’s notice) might possibly give them a valentine. Voice of experience here: I remained invisible.

By middle school (aka junior high), class parties gave way to Valentine’s Day dances. Time for fancy dresses and high-heeled shoes. Before the “British Invasion” swept the nation, we fast-danced to songs like “The Twist” by Chubby Checker, or slow-danced to tunes like “Cherish” by The Association. No one “dated” at that age. Kids got dropped off at dances by their parents. But new romantic hopes were kindled in darkened school cafeterias or gyms … would one of those cute boys ask you to dance? If not, you could always fast dance with your girlfriends (voice of experience …).

As childhood morphed to adulthood, junior high kids turned into high schoolers, and then on to college or jobs, and for some of us, marriage awaited. Through the years, Valentine’s Day celebrations brought more dances, fancy dinners, flowers, candy, sappy cards and jewelry.

A cute boy finally paid me notice, but true love didn’t blossom over a sentimental card or a box of candy on a long-ago Valentine’s Day. It happened one cold February afternoon in 1975 when my husband-to-be returned to our fleabag apartment in Bloomington, fresh from working one of his college jobs as a school crossing guard. He stamped the snow off his shoes, hung up his coat and told me he was worried about a little boy who walked his route and didn’t have a coat. “Somehow, I’ve got to get a winter coat for him. It’s bitter cold out there.” Nearly 50 years later, I’m not sure how we got a coat for that little guy, but we made it happen. And my love and admiration for that cute guy who finally found me was solidified, hard as a diamond.

Small moments of love have impacted my life the most. Like the smiles on my husband’s face when he held our babies for the first time. Or hearing my three-year-old grandson say “I love you” to his “Grampy-Grampy.” Or feeling the love when rereading encouraging letters my late mother wrote me during her lifetime. And experiencing the amazing love and generosity of family and friends (and strangers) when my husband and I lost our home and most of our worldly possessions in the flood of 2008. Love carried us through that tough time.

I wish there was more love around. More kindness. More generosity. Can we bridge the political divide that’s split our country? Can we show more respect for our hardworking teachers? Can we share kind and encouraging comments on social media instead of spewing meanness, criticism and hate? Valentine’s Day is over and the leftover candy is stale but love never ends … it’s always fresh and never out of season.