I think Valentine’s Day was as exciting to me, as a grade-schooler, as Christmas. In the days preceding February 14, we would make our “mailbox" during art class in school. Sometimes it truly was a box, made from a shoe box that we brought from home. We decorated it with pink, red and white construction paper, paper doilies and glitter. Most important was the slot we cut into the top. I always made sure mine was wide enough to allow a valentine with a lollipop or package of conversation hearts attached to be dropped in easily. Other years we made a large decorated pocket, out of construction paper, into which the valentines could be dropped. These boxes or pockets would be lined up along one wall of the classroom, several days ahead, waiting for the big valentine delivery.
The valentines we bought back then were more complex and interesting than the ones generally found in stores today. For one thing, the cards were larger – most of them about 4” x 5”. And they didn't have TV/Movie characters on them. They were hearts and flowers and ribbons and birds and bees and Cupids and arrows. The ornately shaped cards were perforated so as to be easily punched out of the white background, and there were often little “doodads” that attached to the cards by means of tabs and slots, and were then taped on the back side. This made the cards three dimensional and very ornate.
A week or so before the big day, our teacher would send home a list of all the children in the class. The instructions were clear . . . address a valentine to everyone on the list, or bring none! No one was to be left out. Then came the soul-searching task of deciding which valentine went to whom. The one that went to “Teacher” was easy, as there was always a special one in the package for her. Then I selected valentines for my “best friends," the prettiest cards with the most elaborate doodads. Next came the cards I selected for the boys I secretly liked (I never openly liked a boy, back then). Those were the most difficult to choose. The wording had to be extra nice, hinting at the "L" word without being too obvious. And finally, there were the valentines for everyone else, the generic ones that didn’t commit to anything except that they were classmates and that it was a special day. Despite the teacher’s efforts to see that everyone was treated equally, I must admit that my process of assigning cards to certain people was, in its own way, quite discriminatory.
On Valentine's Day we had our class party. Usually the room mother brought cupcakes or iced cookies and punch. Then we went around the room, dropping our valentines into the appropriate mailboxes. Luckily the party came at the end of the day, because I could hardly wait to take down my mailbox/pocket, take it home, and open up all of the wonderful valentines. Of course, the effort that went into choosing just the right card for each friend turned into a similar effort, but in reverse, as I attempted to figure out what each person was thinking about me when they chose the card they put into my mailbox. Was there a secret message hidden in the words of this one? Was the "L" word hinted at in that one? Who had gone to the most effort in attaching those frilly doodads? And to whom was I considered "just a classmate" and given a generic, nondescript valentine?
None of you, my faithful readers, are "just" a friend. You are each special, and here's a valentine from me to you.
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