Compassionate Valentines

My big sisters slammed the back door as they left the house. To hurry me along, Mom said, “Put your scarf on and go…Daddy’s waiting in the car.” I pulled a small purple nylon wisp of material from my coat pocket, folded it diagonally and put it over my head and tied a small knot under my chin. Pushing my glasses further up onto the bridge of my nose, I ran out of our farmhouse, slamming the door behind me.

The air felt sharp that February morning, as sharp as any of the January mornings the previous month, but something seemed different. I couldn’t place what it was. A bird sang as I clambered into the family car. The sound made me pause. It was not one that I’d heard since last fall. As cold as it was, some of the summer birds were returning!

There was a hole in our green Dodge’s floor boards behind the driver’s seat. As Daddy drove through the yard to the road, I instinctively put my foot over the hole as we approached a big mud puddle. Instead of a splash against the bottom of my foot like happened after school yesterday, we heard the sound of shattering glass. I loved the sound. During first recess at school, my friends and I would go all over the playground and break the panels of ice that covered each puddle.

At school, one of my classmates was getting out of her dad’s car at the same time I was getting out of mine. Besides her school bag, she held a covered pan. Jane said, “It’s my birthday today! Mom made fudge for me to share with the class.”

Despite knowing that our teacher, Sister Florence, would make her wait until the end of the school day before she could pass out her treat, my mouth watered with happy anticipation. Today would be a good day.

What I learned that day, was that February is a big month for birthdays of past presidents of the United States. Sister spent a lot of time telling us about them and also about Saint Valentine, a martyred saint who defended the sanctity of marriage in which Christ desires to be present.

Some of the girls in the class were smiling. They were excited about their plans to hand out Valentine’s Day cards to their friends. Sister sternly admonished the class, saying, “It has become a custom for school children to exchange Valentine’s Day cards. I will allow that to take place next Tuesday afternoon on the 14th.” Her ancient voice rose a bit as she added, “HOWEVER…you CANNOT give cards to just one or two friends. If you pass out cards, you MUST have one for EVERYONE in the class!”

The social pecking order in our class of 50 students was diverse. Some of the children were popular, well dressed and well behaved. Others were naughty and hard to get along with. I was at an age when little girls thought the boys had cooties. Many of the boys didn’t help matters by their behavior. They did things like; eat glue during art projects, blow snot bubbles with their noses before using a handkerchief, laughing when they or anyone else passed gas and in general were ready for any mischief when an opportunity presented.

Some of the girls softly sighed. A few of the naughtier boys sniggered. Everyone in class was either a sheep or a goat and we all knew in which pen we belonged. Although I was a sheep, I was quiet and probably wouldn’t have received many cards. Because of Sister Florence’s compassionate Valentine rule, no one would go home with an empty Valentine mail box.

Just before the last bell of the day rang, Sister allowed Jane to pass out her birthday treat. I ran out to Daddy’s car in the school yard still holding it. Mom had come to town with Daddy to pick us up. She said, “Who brought fudge? May I taste?”

I said, “It’s Jane’s birthday today. Can we stop at Davel’s and buy 50 Valentine cards on our way home?”

Mom said, “Mmmm. Jane’s mom makes good fudge. It’s smooth and not sugary. Davel’s might be sold out. We have red paper at home, why don’t you make homemade cards. They’ll be more meaningful.”

I moaned and thought, “That’ll be a lot of bother.” Then it occurred to me that cards from the store would probably say things like, ‘Be my Valentine’. I didn’t want to give ones like that to Billy, Jimmy or Randy! If I made my own, I could write something less mushy…like, ‘Happy Valentine’s Day!’

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