We’re on the cusp of Valentine’s Day, and I simply cannot wait. The world has been doused with a palette of pink and red hues since mid-January, and my appetite for chocolate and sweet nothings has officially been whetted. Ironically, however, I think I felt a greater sense of eagerness and excitement over the coming holiday as a third grader than I do now (no offense to the love of my life, who makes it his business to woo the socks off me every hour of every day).
But from my perspective then, February 14th somehow held more promise than all the holidays rolled into one. Even birthdays. There was something marvelously alluring, indeed almost magical, about the air of mystery surrounding the customary trading- of-valentines thing. Maybe it was the not-knowing aspect with which I was most enamored. I loved that wild- with-anticipation feeling as I thumbed through my cache of tiny envelopes and heart-shaped lollipops, cleverly skewered through cards I would soon ogle. And the thrill of having to wait and see who would deliver what sort of message to whom was beyond compare. (Even an eight-year-old has a vested interest in the politics of social networking and acknowledges fully the veneer—I mean the sacredness—of camaraderie). But it was the sheer open-endedness, the veil of anonymity, and the overwhelming pandemonium of the event that made me drunk with joy. I get giddy just thinking about it even now.
And yet there was more. I was mesmerized by the passion with which classmates seemingly approached the making-of-the-valentine-collection- devices (i.e. the crafty boxes and brown paper bags we poured ourselves into, plastering them ridiculously with construction paper hearts, glue galore, and pathetic-looking cupids). Maybe that explains why I’ve felt compelled to festoon every in-box I’ve had since then, hopeful they would somehow appear more inviting to those who had good news to deliver—during February or any other month.
But maybe, just maybe, I so greatly revered Valentine’s Day as a grade-schooler because of the grand and glorious party that customarily consumed much of the school-day afternoon—that coveted window of time after lunch and before dismissal when no one wanted to work anyway. It was something we all looked forward to with untold enthusiasm. Books and pencils were hurriedly jammed into desks while cutesy napkins and Styrofoam cups took their places. Foil-covered chocolates, Red Hots, and Sweetheart candies stamped with coy little messages were doled out by the fistful, as were stickers and gum, pencils and erasers. And, without fail, someone’s mom made each of us feel extra special by placing a big, heart- shaped, slathered-oh-so-generously-with-icing cookie before us. No one left empty-handed or found themselves wanting for anything—except for maybe a bigger bag to help us haul it all home.
In retrospect, that may be what struck me most about that magnificent day of yore—the dumping of the bounty in the middle of our kitchen. With a deafening crash it cascaded to the floor and lapped at my ankles— serving as consummate validation that I was worthy of befriending. It was then the process of sorting began—the good stuff and the really good stuff was categorized and piled accordingly. Everything was deemed valuable and deserved meticulous inspection—even the foolish tripe I’d never use or eat in the decade to follow. Like a pirate I pored over my loot, swimming in a sea of wares, reveling in my good fortune and newly forged friendships. I sang the praises of this or that custom-made card to all who would listen and felt all warm and fuzzy inside with each and every invitation to “Be mine!”—especially upon receiving a valentine from a secret admirer. That was, of course, beyond the point of bliss—in a cupcakes-with-pink-frosting sort of way.
Oh, to be a third grader once again....