By Corey Heller
Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons
When I was young, Valentine’s Day Eve was always the same: my mother and I would sit in front of the television watching Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) wail her heart-breaking laments while we snipped, glued and constructed Valentines for my classmates.
Although almost every other student in my class would pass out chromatic, store-bought Valentines covered with images of the latest cartoon characters, my mother insisted that we make beautiful ones by hand. And I am so glad that she did! I am still proud of those Valentines today, each and every one of them, even after all of these years. I can still remember the detail that went into them; each a majestic monument of care and creativity.
What made the evening so memorable for me is not necessarily the special Valentines box that my mother brought down from the attic filled with tiny Victorian glue-on cherubs and flowers (even though I did adore those) or the delicate sheets of pink, white and dark-red paper (so soft to the touch).
Burned into my memory are my mother’s hands; her long, delicate fingers working with precise animation as we sat side-by-side cutting and gluing in concentrated, creative collaboration. I remember her laughter and our moments of distraction as something important unfolded in Gone with the Wind on the television before us. We bonded over lace doilies, chubby cherubs and Scarlett O’Hara. And then, in the end, we collapsed in exhaustion in the middle of the night after the final Valentine had received its culminating bit of lace and the last student’s name had been scratched off the list.
Perhaps it is ironic that these are my fondest memories of Valentine’s Day. Why not a romantic evening from my youth? Or the arrival of chocolate and roses on my doorstep?
Marrying a man from Germany who never grew up with the tradition of Valentine’s Day is actually a blessing in disguise for me. He feels absolutely no pressure to perform according to some arbitrary American cultural norm. In part, he just doesn’t want to (the whole thing seems so commercialized to him) and another part of him just doesn’t really “get it.” Why should he go out of his way on a specifically prescribed day to get me sub-standard chocolate and expensive roses just because the calendar says so? And why would we want to go out to dinner on Valentine’s Day evening when everyone else in the city will be doing the same thing? Let’s just stay home, pop open a sparking wine and chat for an hour or two!
Perhaps this sounds rather unromantic and utterly pragmatic, but it works for us. I’ll take a glass of bubbly snuggled on the sofa in front of the fire with my German husband any day!
Now that I have children, Valentine’s Day Eve has taken on a new focus. Forget chocolate and flowers! Get out the craft box, kids, it’s time to make Valentines! We dig through sheets of colored construction paper and dive head-first into snipping and gluing and laughing and admiring. We don’t yet have a box of laced paper doilies or Victorian cherubs but they are on my list. I want ones just like my mom would pull out of her Valentine’s box when I was a child.
Lucky for us, my children’s Spanish teacher (also a homeschooling mom) asked the kids to bring Valentines to the next class. She wants to use them as part of a language lesson. Yes! Perfect! This means that our Valentine making event will have a real purpose to it. I can rally the Valentine-making troops with confidence and gusto. Full force ahead, kids! We have (real) work to do!
As we make our first round of Valentines, my son tries to get away with a sub-standard one. I look at him calmly but sternly and ask, “Is that the kind of Valentine you would like to receive from a friend?” Perhaps it is but instead of arguing he pulls out his scissors and snips out a few more yellow and blue hearts which he glues on with care. This is serious work and mom is not about to budge on quality.
Yes, things are a little different from when I was a kid. This year our Valentines will say, “Feliz día de San Valentín” and will have words like “amor,” “amistad” and “amigo” instead of “Happy Valentine’s Day,” “love,” “friendship” and “friend.” But it doesn’t really matter which language we use. In the end, what we will remember most will be the time we spent together, side-by-side, snipping and gluing and admiring and laughing.
And my mother’s memory will come alive inside me as she helps us glue on those lovely pink hearts, little yellow flowers and many measures of love.