Writers block: vintage valentines: ties that bind

With Valentine’s Day almost here, I’m wondering if elementary school students this week are toiling over the laborious task of writing out Valentines for each one of their classmates. Is that old-time tradition still socially acceptable?

The Valentine project was an across-the-curriculum activity long before that became a new-fangled way to teach—involving reading, writing and art.

Since it would be so embarrassing for a girl to write out a Valentine for a boy that sounded too mushy or vice versa, all Valentines in the box had to be read closely before deciding who should get which one. What if the ones receiving them interpreted the trite little phrases as admission of liking them? Heaven forbid, a student could get  teased about that for the rest of the school year!

Back when I was a student at Hilltop Elementary in the 1970s, which was before Disney and other cartoon characters became popular on Valentines, creators of the verses were heavy on puns.  I just happen to still have a boxful of the Valentines addressed to me from that era.

A Valentine with a clock from Jim S. said “It’s high time to be my Valentine.” Another with a kite from Jim M. said “My hopes are flying high for Feb. 14.” One with a top from Kris P. simply said “You’re tops.”

A fishing pole Valentine from Keith S. said “I’m a good catch.” A tiger card from Don C. said “Valentine, you’re the grr-r-reatest.” One from Jeff K. of a person in a raincoat said “Sunshine ahead Valentine, if you’ll be mine.”

The messages from the girls in the class were just as sweet and sappy. Sheri O. shared a card with a teapot that said “You’re my cup o tea.” One from Audrey R. with strawberries said “On Feb. 14, you’re the berries!”  Patty W. gave one with an ice cream cone that said “What a scoop to have a Valentine like you.” A Valentine from Mary G. showed a lemon that said “Don’t be a sour puss” and a pear that said “We could be a happy pear.” A card with grapes from Corinne A. said “Let’s be Valentines, you’re the best in the bunch.” A bear card from Sandy B. said “Come on, be my honey,” and one from Jackie S. showed a skunk that said, “Valentine, I’m scent-i-mental about you.”

I was raised in a stoic Norwegian family who didn’t talk about love, but for some reason I could never toss out those sweet sentiments with their handwritten names on the back.

The annual rite each mid-February was a lesson in  penmanship cleverly disguised as a fun way to get some sweet treats. I remember some years printing as plainly as I could and as an older student using fancy cursive, especially for my best friends.

Then there was the construction of the Valentine box. It seems like some years we made them at home and some years at school, but either way it was an art project. I remember Valentine boxes constructed out of shoeboxes, tissue boxes, cereal boxes or 1/2 gallon paper cartons. We covered them with red, pink or white construction paper, decorated them with hearts,  and added our name and a slit for Valentines to slip through. By the end of our Valentine exchange, our boxes would be filled with sweet or silly messages and, if lucky, with a red, heart-shaped sucker, a stick of gum or some sort of treat taped to it.

 Those childhood Valentines are ties that bind, a connection to people that many decades later still remains. Working in the city where I was born and raised is a blessing because I run into familiar faces a lot—classmates and teachers, school bus pals, neighbor kids and church friends—no longer kids but all a tie to my past. Sometimes I think I would like to be anonymous. Yet deep in my heart, I know I wouldn’t like it. We need to connect with others. Shared experiences are ties connecting our hearts in a way that neither years nor circumstances can loosen.

(Copyright © 2020 APG Media)

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