"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways," wrote Elizabeth Barrett Browning in "Sonnets to the Portuguese." "I love thee to the depth and breadth and height "
Easy for her to say especially after Robert Browning swept her off her invalid's couch and transformed her into a mountain climber and intrepid traveler.
Although my life with husband Ray is mundane by comparison the highest thing I've climbed with him is the pyramid at Chichen Itza he is to me what Robert was to Elizabeth: essential as breathing.
However, while I can honestly say that Ray has been my only love, he hasn't been my only infatuation. I've had two of those three if you count the dark-haired cutie I was smitten with in kindergarten.
My first major infatuation occurred in third grade. It lasted until I turned 9 and realized I couldn't possibly have a future with a boy whose best friend was named Buckshot and who spent his free time in art class making naughty body parts out of modeling clay.
Cupid struck again in eighth grade when a freckle-faced boy gained my attention by slipping a package for me containing a charm bracelet under my homeroom Christmas tree. The budding romance didn't last much past the holidays, however, because feeling it appropriate to give him a gift in return I let my parents pick it out.
To this day, I am grateful I never had to listen to the record they chose. But trust me on this, it wasn't the popular tune I suggested.
The first time I laid eyes on black-haired, blue-eyed Ray in ninth-grade English class, I knew he was the one for me. Freshly arrived from a country school, he was good-looking, tanned and smart enough to supplement his income by selling math answers to several of his buddies until they discovered it was more economically feasible to buy an answer key at the bookstore.
It wasn't long until I was wearing his ring on a chain around my neck and the rest, trite to say, is history.
You may suspect that it is the approach of Valentine's Day that has put me in a reflective, romantic frame of mind. And you are correct. For if spring turns a young man's fancy to love, Valentine's Day has the same effect on women of any age.
I once wrote that love is marrying a man after he's dropped a snake on you in a silo. It happened to me. While it wasn't romantic in a traditional way, it was definitely memorable.
But when I surveyed several happily married couples about the most unforgettably romantic thing their partner has ever done for them, not one of them could or would? give me a response.
Several are still thinking about it and have promised to get back to me, but I'm not holding my breath.
Problems can occur when what is romantic to one individual is viewed quite differently by his or her love interest. Consider my friend Fred, whose partner gave him a plaque stating "above par lover." She meant to be complimentary, but Fred is an enthusiastic golfer and his reaction was swift and incredulous: "I'm not even par?"
When I asked Ray what he considered the most romantic thing I ever did for him, he was quick with an answer, just not one I can report in print.
Personally, I think one of the most romantic things I do for him is tediously picking the little white pieces of fat out of salami slices as I construct his favorite sandwich: salami, cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo and hot sauce on toast.
He doesn't even know I spend my time exorcising the fat from salami and wouldn't appreciate it if he did. In fact, he would think the practice downright silly.
So, I surmise, would Elizabeth clearly too busy to pick fat from salami because her time was spent writing amorous verses to Robert: "I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears, of all my life! and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death."
Were I a poet, I might compose a Valentine's Day love sonnet to Ray that is equally eloquent. Unfortunately, "I love thee to a degree that compels me to pick fat from salami for thy health's sake" falls far short of Elizabeth's poetic beauty.
If you, too, lack her talent, try this on that most romantic of days.
Look deep into your sweetheart's eyes, and say with feeling "Happy Valentine's Day, Honey!" Always works for me!
Marsha Henry Goff is a free-lance writer in Lawrence.