Yesterday I wandered into Roberts Craft Store to buy ModPodge – a crafter’s necessity dating back to the 70s but still needed for a variety of creative ideas. My purpose for purchasing was to glue my 500-piece puzzle together so I can frame it and hang it. Because the product was tucked w-a-a-y back in a corner, I had to wend my way through aisles of Valentine paraphernalia before finding the glue. Seeing all the designs of love quotations, hearts, and flowers to commemorate February 14th ALMOST put me in the Valentine mood.
While reflecting upon Cupid’s favorite day, I first thought, “Valentines Day has not grown into the crazy holiday that Halloween has.” But then I started remembering my childhood and what a big deal it was to me. Because it was of utmost importance, I’m sure it was stressful for my working mom. (I need to ask her about that.)
First of all, school children HAD to decorate boxes into which our friends could deposit Valentines. Sometimes my teachers held contests for the best, cutest, most creative, etc. designs, and that added to the pressure of creating an amazing crêpe papier receptacle. I’ve been a long-time klutz, so cutting, wrapping, and gluing turned into a hurricane of scraps, cuts, stains, and goop. (Do any of you remember how red crêpe papier could turn hands and faces crimson if it got wet? And I kind of liked the taste of it, too. I know that’s weird. And then I loved to spread Elmer’s Glue all over the palms of my hands and then peel it off like a layer of skin. But I also liked school paste because that tasted good, too – until someone told me it was made of dead horses’ hoofs.) At any rate, I’m pretty sure Mom sent me to bed before the task was completed, but in the morning, I found the finished box waiting for me, and it looked BEAUTIFUL! (In talking with my mom and sister the other day, I concluded that Mom didn’t finish the project, and the Valentine box I woke up to was the same one I worked on the night before.)
Next came the Valentine-making and addressing. I don’t remember making many “from scratch” except the cards I created at school for my parents, but we could buy card kits that required some assembly such as gluing on paper lace and little pictures. I gave away all the ones I made, but this one survived because my sister Connie created it and presented it to me. It was also one of the few that opened up to a verse printed on the inside. You can see her young signature there, too. I’m guessing that’s about all she could print, so there aren’t any additional messages about what a wonderful big sister I was! (Notice, however, that she did pick a picture of an “I Love You” heart for the cover even though the published message is generic enough that it could have been sent to a near stranger!)
If we didn’t MAKE our cards, it still took HOURS to address them, and this is why: we had to perfectly match the card to the person. In first and second grade, I still worried about giving a boy I DIDN’T like a Valentine that might imply that I did – as in girlfriend/boyfriend kind of “like.” On the other hand, I picked a “mushy” card to give to the boy I chased around the playground at recess.
For example, this one says, “HEY SUGAR!” Now THAT’S romantic. How could the love of my 6-year-old life NOT know that I was crazy about him. (A boy named Eric actually gave me this one back in 1955. I wonder if he realized he was sending me a subliminal message that told me he wanted to marry me as soon as we turned 7. Probably not.)
This was also a time when teachers only ENCOURAGED their students to bring a card for every child in the class. I’m pretty certain Mom made sure I did, but I clearly remember checking through each card and comparing it with the class list to find out who was snubbing me. When I figured it out, sometimes I didn’t care but most of the time it did hurt. (Connie thinks we always received cards from every student present that day, but she remembers noticing that some friends found candy hearts or suckers in envelopes while others were NOT given that extra measure of “love.”)
I always picked out “girly” Valentines for my girlfriends, but there were NO Disney Princesses to wow Diane and Leah, Trudy or Randy. The best we could find were main characters from nursery rhymes – Little Bo Peep was the obvious favorite in 1955.
Our cards also depicted young girls doing what young girls were supposed to do in the early ’50s: SWEEP, BAKE, , and BLUSH! (I’m positive the blusher was my favorite as it included a slot for a lollypop!)
As for the boys, we could always send them a popular 50’s Valentine with a politically INcorrect message such as this one. (Grandma and Grandpa H. actually gave this to me! At least, they didn’t cave in to the stereo-typical nursery rhyme heroines or domestic princesses!)
Of course, for every little American Indian, there was a cowboy OR girl: Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Annie Oakley, Hop-Along Cassidy, the Lone Ranger, and Gene Autrey – to name a few of our Saturday matinee heroes.
I’m not sure why Mom or I saved these gems, but I enjoyed rumaging through them tonight; recalling old friends, feeling sad that I COULDN’T remember some, noting grandparents’ signatures written neatly across the backs, and warming up with the memories and marveling at how times have changed. In fact, these little momentos have done more to put me in a “Cupid” mood than any TV commercial or store display. I better start working on my list.