While choosing the Valentines to send to friends and family this year, I began to think about Valentines past and when getting a valentine in the little pouch we made of construction paper in school was as much drama and pathos as pleasure. Charles M. Schultz did a few riffs with Charley Brown and his holiday woes and the woes were seldom far behind the pleasure at receiving a valentine at all.
I looked for the special handmade cards, and those were few and far between, and the cards with messages into which I would fit my dreams that a certain boy liked me as much as I liked him. Those were also few and far between until I got married and then were rarer than hen's teeth.
The package of cards we bought at the drug store or corner market were just like the cards most of the kids in school would get and I spent hours choosing the right card for everyone. I still choose carefully, but the cards are individual and don't come in boxes and have to be separated at the perforations or chosen from among the 30 or so cards, some of which would be duplicates. How I looked forward to Valentines Day and looking at my loot cards. There would be candy hearts with funny and sweet sayings on them and snacks from the teacher and the room was filled with excitement -- and a few tears carefully snuffled back while fitting a brittle smile on an otherwise brave face while tears glistened in the eyes. And there was envy of the cool kids who got candy AND cards, often handmade cards, while the rest of us got the dime store and corner store variety. Valentines Day, like most holidays, was a lesson in futility and how much love can hurt -- even when it's paper love on a store bought card. The expectations always outweighed the reality, and I learned to revel in the crumbs tossed my way with the rest of the rabble.
This morning, Ted Mitchell wrote about being in the boy scouts and not quite fitting in because he was shy and awkward and . . . different. I was always the new kid in school since Dad was in the Army and we moved a lot. The new kidness wore off pretty quickly when we were either transferred (3 times in one year) or fit into the groove and hidden hollows of school life. Valentines Day was the same everywhere -- and so were the scouts.
I was an odd duck, shy but not painfully so and tentative until I found my groove. I was quiet, except when it was time to answer questions, and often held back at group activities, even when I was really good at whatever was going on. One year, a few weeks after entering 6th grade at John Burroughs Elementary School, I tried out for the part in Jack and the Beanstalk. Rob Stokes had the part of the harp but didn't study his lines or know his song and so was taken out of the cast. I raised a shaky hand and took a deep and very shaky breath before launching into the harp's song. The longer I sang, the less shaky I seemed, my voice confident and musical, but my hands were a morass of sweat and left a wet slick on my desktop where I clutched the overhang at the top of the desk while I sang. I won the part but my insides had gone through a blender and still shuddered and shook as I bravely smiled and held back the bile burning the back of my throat. Rob was the cutest guy in class, and the rottenest in terms of behavior, and I had a crush on him. I had a more immediate crush from the moment I walked into the class my first day after Thanksgiving but he was even shyer than I was and wouldn't look at me at all. Rob was the safer bet since most of the girls had a crush on Rob.
After I won his part, he treated me worse than ever, and I still looked on him with adoring eyes. That should have alerted me to my major failure when choosing guys to crush -- I had the worst taste in men. I wanted the ones that did not want me and ended up with the broken winged birds that were not even close to being in my league. It's why I'm still single these days and likely to stay there. I cannot be trusted with love -- not of the opposite sex and definitely not with someone my own age and not one of my progeny -- their progeny.
Valentines Day brings up feelings of bright hope and shyness. I worry over which card is the best for which person -- grandkids are easy -- and what message I am sending. Valentines are just words on pretty paper with funny sayings and hopeful wishes for love -- or at least tolerance.
I have never really fit in, although I have been welcome to many different groups and cliques -- probably because of my oddness. People can't quite figure me out, but figure since I'm nice and willing to sit and be quiet (most of the time) then I am welcome to come (and go) as I please. I seek out the underdogs, the other people who don't fit in, coaxing them out of corners and from the fringes of the group, and do my best to make them feel welcome, even when I'm new to the area and don't know anyone either. I'm used to being the new kid and wise in the ways of valentines and hope. What I cannot have for myself, I am willing to get for other loners and odd ducks and broken winged birds. Someone should benefit -- even if it's a store bought paper valentine with a sappy saying and sappier wishes for a moment of belonging and a small smile of happiness.