Ah, February, the month of freezing temperatures, gray days, heavy snowfalls … and LOVE.
For me, the long-stemmed red roses and heart-shaped candy boxes of Valentine’s Day make up for all of February’s negatives. From the time the cute new boy in third grade addressed all 12 cards in his Valentine package to me, I’ve known that Valentine’s Day was one sweet holiday.
It became even better in high school when my boyfriend Ray gave me candy and a teddy bear each Valentine’s Day. One year, he even took out a few chocolates and replaced them with an engraved ID bracelet. Every Valentine’s Day, I made him a great big red cinnamon candy heart with Lifesaver eyes and a gumdrop nose. It doesn’t get much sweeter than that when you’re a teenager.
By the time my sons were teenagers, stuffed animals and cinnamon hearts alone wouldn’t suffice as Valentine gifts. Ray Jr. (aka Butch) provided me with an anecdote sale to Reader’s Digest when he took his girlfriend to a restaurant for an expensive steak dinner. His extravagance made me think of sitting with Ray in his old ’49 Mercury at a drive-in, ordering 25-cent hamburgers and nickel root beers and hearing him say earnestly, “I guess you realize if we get married, we won’t be able to afford to eat out like this.”
Not every woman falls in love with her future husband at the tender age of 14. I was just lucky. Still, young love’s road can be rocky. Nephew Ryan, inexperienced in puppy love, was taken aback when his first-ever girlfriend said, “I love you.” His response missed her expectations when he replied, “That’s nice.”
While neither Ray nor I committed Ryan’s romantic faux pas, we certainly had our problems in young love. Ray’s heavy ring denoting our “steady” status, worn on a chain around my neck, was frequently just a blur between us as he demanded it back or I threw it at him. Sadly, that ring is lost, but I’m pretty sure that somewhere I have every Valentine card he gave me.
However, one of my favorite cards from Ray is not a Valentine but a card he bought three years ago in the tiny Alaskan fishing village of Pelican. Because there were only 42 passengers on our small ship, we were allowed to tour the town, which had boardwalks, no streets and one pocket-sized electric car. Visitors were so rare that there were no tourist trinkets in the few shops that served the needs of residents.
But the general store had an assortment of greeting cards that were marked from Pelican. I selected a lovey-dovey card for Ray and, as I wandered through the store, overheard him ask the clerk if he could buy a stamp. Back in our cabin on the ship, I addressed the card to Ray and put it on his bunk. After his shower, he spied the card, opened it and began laughing. He laughed so long that I became insulted and he was forced to tell me that when we returned home, I would find a card exactly like it that he had mailed from Pelican’s post office.
I also treasure a card reading “Happy Valentine’s Day to my Soldier Sweetheart!” that Mom sent to Dad during World War II when he was serving with the Rangers. It makes me wonder how many other American GIs on that long-ago Valentine’s Day opened cards from their sweethearts expressing love that was undiminished by distance.
Valentine’s Day also reminds us that love is ageless. A late elderly gentleman of whom I was fond had the habit of expressing love for his wife by scattering red hearts and chocolate kisses around the living room for her to find on Valentine’s Day morning. How nice to know that love will last as long as we do and — if Patrick Swayze’s character in the movie “Ghost” can be believed — even longer than that.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
— Marsha Henry Goff is a freelance writer in Lawrence whose latest book is “Human Nature Calls.”