When I was old enough to understand what Valentine’s Day was it seemed like the perfect day to get married. So I asked my mother why she and Dad got married February 6th. They could have waited a week and a day, to marry on the most romantic day of the year. She made a disgusted face. “Why on earth would we do that?”
My family cultivated rebellion against popular culture. If most people did something, we did not unless we had very logical and well considered reasons. There was no case of support for Valentine’s Day, but I still had dreams. Someday a beautiful boyfriend will send dozens of roses and a box of chocolates with a ring hidden in a truffle. An airplane will fly overhead at the exact moment I find the ring and write in the sky with puffy white smoke “Marry me or let me die”.
In grade school we were required to give a Valentine to every kid in the class regardless of personal feelings. I carefully selected cards and candy hearts for boys I liked and just as carefully examined the ones received in search of a secret admirer. Once I thought I found one but when cornered at recess he said his mother made him give me the extra special valentine with the decorated heart sucker. I told him I threw it away because it tasted nasty. And besides that I hated him.
My only valentine from a boyfriend came in fifth grade. He flunked kindergarten so was older with muscles and face hair. He wore tight t shirts and had a James Dean attitude. At the time “Leader of the Pack” played every night on the radio. I sang along and pictured my parents refusing to let me see him again, saying tearful goodbyes and then watching him ride his bike into a train. I replayed the scenario and changed his ending. Sometimes he was hit by a truck. And sometimes he rode off the Mississippi Bridge. But the final scene was always the same. He died in my arms as I promised to always love him. We broke up after he sent a message through my neighbor that he wanted to marry me and would then “f” me. My return message was “yes” to the marriage and “no” to the “F’ing”. He never spoke to me again, but began meeting my neighbor in the alley behind the school. For years I kept his valentine behind my radio and pulled it out whenever they played our song.
In middle school and high school boyfriends didn’t last past two weeks and never had one for Valentine’s Day. I came close once, but he was too boring. I was told I didn’t act right. I didn’t flirt, I had opinions and I argued. These boys wanted their future wife to stay home like their mothers. That wasn’t my life goal. Home Ec was the only class I almost failed. It was a protest. I wanted to take shop and make ash trays instead of casseroles.
Since I held no threat, girls used me to drop hints to their boyfriends about what they wanted for Valentine’s Day. I saw the shocked reactions. Too much money. The boy told me what he could afford and I’d start the negotiations.
By the time I went to college I dismissed Valentine’s Day as a capitalistic manipulation of the masses and pitied those innocently sucked into it. By my sophomore year I was engaged to the one and only boyfriend who surpassed the fifteen day record. As February approached I told George not to worry about getting anything for me. He looked surprised. “Why would I?”
We’ve been together forty four years and don’t do Valentine’s Day, except once.
We weren’t married yet and George was living in another state. People expressed sympathy that we wouldn’t be together for Valentine’s Day and I made speech after speech about how ludicrous it was to designate a day for everyone to express love, that its origin is pagan and adopted without acknowledgement by Christianity to honor St. Valentine and now was nothing more than crass commercialism sponsored by Hallmark.
I was living in a house with friends who had been subjected to my tirades. When I got home from work there were a dozen roses on the table. I ignored them at first and then decided to be polite and asked whose they were. I was handed the card and teased unmercifully.
If I had not been moved to tears and shopped the next day for a carved wooden box to keep the petals, I might have ranted against this holiday for the rest of my life. My basic opinion hasn’t changed. I still deplore the commercialism and the pressure to profess what is best said spontaneously.
But how I loved those flowers.
And the beautiful man who sent them.