I’ve always been sort of ambivalent about Valentine’s Day. I can remember the childhood excitement of classroom Valentine parties when we sat at our desks opening silly paper cards in tiny envelopes and eating sugary treats. (Do schools even do that anymore?) I also remember when I was about twelve, getting a “real” Valentine from a boy in my neighborhood who had asked me to moonlight skate with him at the last skating party. When he called the local radio station to dedicate the song “Windy” to me, I thought we’d end up getting married. Hearing “Who’s walking down the streets of the city, smiling at everybody she meets” made me feel slim and beautiful with swinging hair even though I was kind of dorky and chunky, and my hair definitely did not swing.
Years later, the middle of February brought the death of my mother which forever cast a shadow on Valentine’s Day. Even now, when I take a Christmas wreath to the cemetery where both my parents are buried, I can still feel the bitter cold of that winter day in 1980. I can see all of us in our funeral-dress-up shoes carefully picking our way across the ice patches and hard-packed snow to reach my mother’s gravesite where we huddled together under the canopy, watching her casket being lowered into the frozen ground.
When I was teaching, Valentine’s Day marked a milepost in the seemingly endless slog toward spring concerts and the oh-so-distant end of the school year. I remember chaperoning nervous adolescents at their first dance and smiling at those few brave souls who broke loose from the security of their friends and wandered out onto the dance floor, gingerly touching each other’s shoulders or waists, as they swayed back and forth to a slow dance.
And then there was the Valentine’s night in 1996 when I found a bouquet of red roses at my front door. I had been on a date or two with a man I met through—no surprise here–choral singing. We had been to dinner, and on another occasion, I met him in the lobby of a theater for a concert. We both enjoyed the time we spent together, but we were tentative, careful. He was a lifelong bachelor, and I had been divorced after a thirteen-year marriage. That night I had come home after a rehearsal and was getting ready for bed. I remember the two Scottie dogs I had at the time fussing and barking until I finally went downstairs and looked out the front door. There was a beautiful bouquet of red roses with a card attached that said something clever and prophetic. (I just asked him if he remembered what he wrote on the card but that was 26 years ago.) I picked up the bouquet, closed the door, and sat right down on the floor and burst into tears. It was so unexpected and so kind and at that point in my life, I was not anticipating receiving flowers from someone who was falling in love with me.
I was twelve again and felt slim and beautiful with swinging hair.