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Another Day in the County

© Another Day in the Country

I’m not sure just when a heart-shaped box of candy became a symbol of importance to me. Perhaps it started in grade school with the annual Valentine exchange when you hoped against hope that you would get a proper amount of these little cards to count and recount with your friends and just maybe you’d be lucky enough to get one from a boy you’d noticed. His name was Vincent, and I was in third grade.

In those long ago and far away days of yore, it didn’t seem to me that egalitarianism was stressed quite so highly as it is today. As I recall, everybody didn’t do it. Mostly it was the girls, and often we made our own cards.

Imagine my surprise, watching my Aunt Gertie going through her keepsakes and finding all kinds of intricately shaped cards covered with hearts and flowers that she’d received through her school years — and kept. These Valentine’s were lacy, delicate contraptions that folded in on themselves in Victorian elegance from the 1920s and 30s. I’d never seen cards quite so fine. Somewhere, between her era and mine the Valentine cards slipped in and back out of popularity and somehow along the line I was imprinted with a yearning for them.

In the 1950s, I received my first heart-shaped box of chocolates from a boy I was dating off and on. I remember he apologized that it was so small. We both knew that it only cost a dollar, and I do recall that I eased his embarrassment by saying, “It’s the thought that counts.” We were both in our first year of college and finances were tight.

There were girls in my dormitory receiving large ornate boxes of chocolates and huge bunches of flowers, but it wasn’t my circle of friends. Later I discovered that this boy who’d secretively handed me the little cardboard dollar box had been invited to a girl’s birthday party during this very Valentine season for someone he barely knew and had spent all of his extra money on a dozen roses to impress his would-be friends. Eventually, he confessed the error of his ways. I should never have married him.

When our daughter was 10, she came the day after Valentine’s Day and presented me with a beautiful heart-shaped box of chocolates. She’d saved her allowance. “I couldn’t afford it on Valentine’s Day, Mom,” she said, “but they put them on sale the day after — half price — and I got you one.” She was triumphant. “I knew you always wanted one.”

It was pink, ornately decorated, padded velvet. I was touched. And a little embarrassed that I’d had such a frivolous yearning.

The other day on the phone she said, “Watch your mail. We sent you something.”

And sure enough, on Monday, a little heart-shaped box of See’s candy arrived.

“It is from me,” crowed my 4-year-old grandson, on the phone again.

Jana’s training him early to pay attention to Valentine’s Day. It’s probably her wish, too, to receive something extravagantly wonderful on Valentine’s Day in a heart-shaped box. Had she caught this need from me, like the measles?

As I watched the Valentine advertisements on TV, I’ve been slightly disgusted. The blatant message seems to be to the men of the world, “You want some attention, some favor, even love; then you’d better give diamonds and dozens of roses and dinners. Give in order to get!”

Seems rather manipulative. I guess everything gets commercialized eventually. It’s the name of the game. I see bumper stickers still hanging around in February admonishing me to “Keep Christ in Christmas,” and I’m designing a label in my head that reads “Keep Love in your Valentine!”, not social pressure.

So here I am during Valentine Season making cards, buying surprises, sending goodies through the mail. I even caught myself trying to bribe my art students into paying attention during class. I promised a treat if they were good — and then I caught the error of my ways. You don’t bribe someone into goodness. You don’t give in order to get. You just give! Give, for the pure pleasure of it! Valentine’s Day is just another day in the country to do something sweet.

This year, I got out all my heart-shaped necklaces and put them on at once, remembering all the ways I’m loved. And then, I came home from teaching art in Marion and there it was — someone had left a heart-shaped box at my front door. And how magical, “Who could it be?”

Last modified Feb. 16, 2012

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