I’m a sucker for all things sweet and heart-shaped. I spend hours, weeks ahead of February 14th, searching for just the right books that speak to my grandchildren’s hearts, and that perfect red dress (this year blue, but adorned with a heart, of course) for my granddaughter to wear to school. I buy candy for my children and friends, but also heart-shaped boxes for my sisters and cousins. As soon as Valentine cards make their appearance on drugstore shelves just after Christmas, I begin amassing dozens of them, taking great pains to get a comical one for my friend that makes me laugh the most and a syrupy sweet one for the friend who listens so patiently to all my drivel. I carefully select cards for my five children’s individual personalities and as many Elmo’s and Mickey & Minnie’s that I can find to delight my two granddaughters and four grandsons. Sorry, Beau. I missed sending you one this year. At 5 weeks of age, I don’t think you’ll remember, but I promise I will make it up to you next year.
The most significant part of my Valentine’s Day shopping is looking for the perfect card for my sweetheart of 42 years. I want to buy every card I see that says, “To My Wonderful Husband” with one criterion: it must bring a tear to my eye. Being a schmaltzy person, who cries just “looking at a wall” according to my wonderful husband, just reading one cloying Hallmark rhyme has me sniveling all over it. Hence, now that it is not fit for sale, I HAVE to buy it. After a 20-minute and 6-bag checkout, a line of people with 3 or 4 items glare at me. I keep apologizing for the balloons and their ribbon tails that are now caught on the cart behind me. I say, “Sorry, I have so many grand kids to remember and I always go overboard.” Then I accidentally bump the stuffed Elmo, who really does go overboard and starts singing “Elmo’s World, Elmo’s World” while I try to pay. The chip reader isn’t working, so the salesperson has to run the card through. Finally, I back my cart full of heart treasures out of the store, careful to hold the balloons tight so they don’t fly away when I get outside. After 10 more minutes of trying to stuff everything in the car, careful to only pop one balloon in the trunk, I head home. There will be no dinner tonight. My two-hour trip to Walgreens means it will be another “take-out” night. Thankfully, I have reached the house before my husband, so I can hide my treasures.
Due to my organizational challenges which I referred to in an earlier post, as the happy heart day draws near, I must spend endless hours searching for my precious valentines under beds and above closets, in drawers, and even in the car. After exhausting all possible hiding places, I run out the day before Valentine’s Day to start the process all over again. This is how I amass boxes of “Valentine Cards,” which I could draw from every year. But as I am “distracted by shiny objects,” the next time I go to the drugstore with a plan to spend only 5 minutes squeezing the Charmin, I am beckoned by even prettier red heart balloons rising over the rolls of toilet paper. I can’t resist their airy appeal, and suddenly I find myself in the card aisle.
An hour has gone by, and I am lost in my fairytale fantasy, reading the lovely lyrics, and laughing at all the musical ones. I am serenaded by the Turtles’ “Happy Together” and decide this is THE perfect card for my husband, as our basement is full of taxidermied turtles his father collected for his seafood restaurant. He is so sentimental he won’t part with them—-so in the cart it goes. Done! No, here’s another one even prettier: black and red with “Husband” scrolled in sparkling calligraphy and dotted with a large rhinestone, aka “diamond” (good hint for him). “I’m so grateful you’re my HUSBAND,” it reads. “You’re a man of few words…” (How do they know him so well?) “But you always find thoughtful ways to show me that you care…” Oh my, this is really meant for him. My husband gives me so many surprise birthday parties that the only surprise now is when I walk into a room on my birthday and there is no surprise. So, in the cart it goes.
I will leave one card by his shower, but as he is often in a hurry and overlooks things, I’ll put the second one by his coffee. If he misses that one (which he has in the past), I’ll have a third one taped on his steering wheel, which is where I have to put things if I want him to remember to take them to the office. Note: I am not always up when he goes to work. He is a morning person, and I am a night person. We figured this out when he was wooing me and I was in the theatre. He would go to dinner after the show with the cast and fall asleep at the table. But that was okay with me. At least he made the effort. Opposites attract. He’s cheerful in the morning, and I’m not. I’m wide awake at 2:00 a.m. reading, and he’s sound asleep. But, he is so considerate that he tiptoes out early in the morning, quiet as a mouse, letting me get my beauty sleep. I am sure he doesn’t think that I NEED my beauty sleep, nor do I imagine he may want some quiet time in the morning to read his paper without my endless chatter chiming in his ear. No, I am sure he’s just being considerate. He really is a sweetheart.
I owe my obsession with Valentine’s Day to my father, who made sure I knew I was “his little sweetheart” at a very early age. I can remember the excitement I felt every February 14th, kneeling in the front window, waiting for what seemed like days, running back and forth to the kitchen to ask my mom, “How long until Daddy’s home?” When my sister and I finally saw the lights of his car coming up the driveway, we could no longer contain ourselves, tripping over each other to be the first to open the door. His giant form came over the threshold. (He was not a big man, but to a four-year-old he was HUGE). He leaned down and scooped us both up in his arms. With a peck on each of our cheeks, he asked, “Who’s my little sweetheart today?”
“I am,” I shouted, squeezing him around the neck.
“Me too,” my older sister chirped demurely, not nearly as showy and obnoxious as me.
“Well,” he said, putting us down gently and reaching into his big pockets. “Let’s see what Daddy has for his little Valentines.”
As we jumped up and down with glee, he pulled what might have been solid gold from his pockets. He teased us, not giving us the bags, but holding them above our heads. As we jumped for them, he magically pulled a white card from the brown paper. It displayed the items we had been dreaming about: beautiful silver necklaces and bracelets with a red, glowing heart glistening in the middle of each.
“OH, Daddy, thank you so much.” I tried to pull it from the cardboard, so anxious to have it around my neck that I almost tore it in two.
“Wait, wait, be careful. It’s delicate, and you don’t want to break it, do you? Here let me help you.”
I finally settled down. My sister calmly waited her turn, as Daddy’s big hands clasped the silver around my neck. Then as he helped my sister with her necklace, I grabbed the shiny bracelet and pulled it over my hand.
“Oh, Daddy, I love you so much,” I said, flinging my bejeweled wrist around his white starched collar.
“I love you too, Nancy. You’re a doll.”
I don’t remember what he said to my sister, as I was too busy dancing around like a princess to notice. Besides, I liked to think that Daddy’s love was reserved especially for me.
Then he picked up the bunch of red roses he had left on the hallway floor, and sauntered into the kitchen, the flowers tucked behind his back as he leaned in to kiss our mother, who had a piping hot dinner ready for all of us–she was her best at night, too.
Daddy didn’t know it at the time, but this “royal treatment” set me up for great expectations from the men in my life. He made me so happy as a little girl that he prepared me to fall in love with a man who also made me feel cherished and loved.
This was long before I had ever heard the words “self-esteem.” I didn’t need to read or learn about it. I HAD it from an early age in the thoughtful and loving way my father treated me every day.
Ted was my Prince Charming. Growing up only 5 miles from my house, he was taught by his father’s example to court me with the same love and respect that my daddy had given me. Now, as an adult, I know it must have been hard for my dad to give his little “sweetheart” away. But when he saw how happy I was with Ted, he followed this advice:
“Love means having to let go.”
So, on this Valentine’s Day, I whisper a “thank you” to my father, who is sadly long gone but has left an indelible mark on me and on generations to come. If he were here, I would say, “Oh Daddy, you gave me the most wonderful gift any little girl can receive. You taught me how to love. On Valentine’s Day and every day, you gave me your heart.”
“The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” —Audrey Hepburn