Valentine’s Day is a day of roses and bows of carousel reds and livid pinks. A day where chocolates find themselves entombed in heart-shaped velvet boxes lavishly displayed in storefront windows. A day of the year where “Be My Valentine” is seen everywhere you look. A day of love for all to share, not just a birthday of the few or wedding for some but a very special day to show someone you care. If it’s by the decadence of chocolate or a single rose, even the simple words of a card sketched in crayon “Be My Valentine”, reminding us all that one day is not enough.
My mother had taken me downtown to F. W. Woolworth’s Department Store. I got to wear my Sunday best, which meant I could sport my one collared shirt. This was a time when malls were just someone's elaborate dream. What a wonderful day it was going to be. I got to spend time alone with mom and we got to eat at the F. W. Woolworth’s lunch counter. Mom said I could order anything on the menu. I got the three-decker baked ham and cheese sandwich with a king-sized Coca-Cola, reaffirming this day was a gift to me because soda was a once-a-year treat. Topping all this off was a slice of apple pie from the tower of pies that were on display at the end of the counter. The best part of Woolworth’s was the magical machine case that held the jewelry and the Timex watches. It was like a miniature ferris wheel with seats for all the marvelous gold and silver on display. Here I got to play the conductor of moving treasures from the vault to the main floor for viewing, controlling it all with just two buttons, without any adult ever interrupting my immense pleasure. However, I was under the watchful eye of a kindhearted clerk who I think knew what a joy this was for me. I kept my playtime to a minimum; this way I would never lose my privileges. When I finished entertaining myself, I scurried around the marvelously decorated display tables thinking what a glorious celebration it will be.
My teacher Mrs. Crandall had given everyone a list of names for which to get Valentine’s cards. I was excited to have a printed list I could use to write my classmates’ names. I didn't pick just any cards out that day. I carefully gazed through the cellophane wrappers of each and every box searching for the biggest and the best cards that said “Wow” -- the ones with the grand smiles, brilliant colors and gargantuan hearts.
At home, I spread myself out on the living room floor, tearing through the slick feeling cellophane wrapper eager to go to work, scattering all the cards out for display, looking at them so bright and happy, looking right back at me. I knew I had made the right choice. I sat with my list the whole day personalizing each and every card in different ways -- a smiley face or a rainbow all done in crayon. Proud of my artistry, I couldn't wait to give them away.
We had all brought lunch bags to school in which to collect our cards. The early part of the morning was spent coloring hearts and printing our names on them. Eventually all 22 bags sat with our individual names, Barry, Monica, Ellen, Peter and more, all clearly printed on the front of the bags. There they stood tall with small stones in the bottom to keep the bags from collapsing. They all looked so inviting, so happy and bright.
Throughout the day and at recess time, everyone dropped their cards in the wonderfully decorated bags on display on top of the bookcase that ran the length of the room. This was more fun than coloring, printing and even the shopping from which I had received such pleasure. I was ecstatic over being involved with my classmates for the very first time in an activity I was good at -- giving.
When it was time to head home for the day, in a single file we passed on by the gift giving bags to collect our treasures. I had a plan for all my cards. I would tape each one of them on a piece of cardboard I had cut out from a box. I had colored and hung it alongside my bed. This way, I could see them every morning and every night as I began and ended my day.
The line moved slower than ever before as we headed out the door. Some bags were overstuffed, others amply filled and then there was my bag. No cards peered from its jagged edge, yet my confidence in this day told me I would find many inside. A much-awaited tapestry of what I had hoped for so long was about to begin, right in that bag and then on my wall as a shrine to friendship and acceptance. I couldn't wait to get them home and tape them up on my display board. I reached and pulled my finely decorated bag from the line only to find the stones sitting alone down at the bottom of the bag. The stones had become much larger than when I had placed them in the bag. Quickly, I crimped the bag’s sharp top and put on the biggest smile I could engineer. I made it appear that my bag was filled with 22 cards that read “Be My Valentine”.
Thoughts of my finest day vanished inside that bag. If there were to be a day that love would find its way to me that would have been the one. So, all they had said was true, all they had done was meant, none of them were kidding or just teasing.
That afternoon on my way home, stepping into the wet damp slush beneath my sluggish feet, I took that unwanted bag, removed the stones and held it as high in the air as my arm would stretch, letting it go into that frigid wind. It hurled away, fluttering against the stiff, unemotional polar current carrying it far beyond my eye’s view, until it reached a never existed distance in my mind.
Night’s shade had fallen unnoticed, unlike the ache in my exposed heart brought on by the bitterness of the season. I had loved 22 unconditional ways and asked for nothing in return. Or did I? I wanted to tell my mom but I knew better. She and dad would not understand another problem from Frankie. When mom asked about the day and my cards, I simply said I got rid of them. There were far too many of them to carry home.
The delicate threads that were weaving my life together were now becoming tangled and split. Webbed among the rubble was the acceleration of falling further behind in school. The distance between what I could learn in my own time and what my peers were learning in textbook time was becoming overwhelming. So much so, that there were days on my walk to school I wanted to terminate my existence, to keep walking and never look back…
Frank G. Caruso