Be My Valentine

RevValentineTable

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”

So says Charles M. Schulz. Valentine’s Day is interpreted by many to include cards, chocolates, candlelight and roses. Some even break the bank buying expensive jewelry. Valentine’s day was named for a Christian martyr dating back to the 5th century, but according to Arnie Seipel in an essay for NPR, its origins are dark and bloody even, beginning with the wild and crazy Romans and their feast of Lupercalia.
During the Middle Ages tokens of love were first expressed by handmade paper cards. In the 14th century Chaucer helped romanticize the holiday with his love quotes like “love is blind” from The Canterbury Tales and his Parlement of Foules, featuring an assembly of birds gathered together to choose their mates. From the Renaissance to the Victorian Age and beyond, poets wrote sonnets extolling romantic love: Shakespeare, known especially during this season for Sonnet # 116, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famous lines “How do I Love Thee? Let me count the ways” in Sonnet # 43.

Today, Valentine’s Day is big business. In 2011, sales reached $ 18.6 billion. This year the figure will probably exceed 20 billion. Seipel quotes Helen Fisher, a sociologist at Rutgers University, who says that if commercialization has spoiled the day, we can blame only ourselves for buying into it. But the celebration of Valentine’s Day goes on nonetheless. Even with some sayings on candy hearts we never imagined:

A few candy heart sayings we never saw: Courtesy Google Images
A few candy heart sayings updated by social media: Courtesy Google Images

Years ago, candies like these were hand-picked for that special one, but many valentine cards were home-made. I remember making valentines for friends at school or punching cut-outs for classmates and dropping them in to the big, square box decorated red and white for Valentine’s Day at Rheems Elementary School. Stories in our readers illustrated children making, not buying, Valentine cards for friends:

"The Surprise Valentines," Gray and Arbuthnot, Scott Foresman & Company, 1941.
“The Surprise Valentines,” Gray and Arbuthnot, Scott Foresman & Company, 1941.

Do you remember making or receiving hand-made valentines? Are you holding on to an old Valentine card for sentimental reasons?

Vintage Cut-out Card, Cliff Collection
Vintage cut-out card, Cliff Collection 1966

Your thoughts start the conversation—or keep it going. Thank you!

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Up in the Garret

MAtticReading

Books, books, books!

I had found the secret of a garret-room

Piled high with cases in my father’s name,

Piled high, packed large,—where, creeping in

and out

Among the giant fossils of my past,

Like some small nimble mouse between

the ribs

Of a mastodon, I nibbled here and there

At this or that box, pulling through the gap,

In heats of terror, haste, victorious joy,

The first book first. And how I felt it beat

Under my pillow, in the morning’s dark,

An hour before the sun would let me read!

My books!

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh

Anna Quindlen in her splendid 84-page book How Reading Changed My Life describes reading as her “perfect island.” She doesn’t say where the island exists, so it can be anywhere the reader imagines it to be.

My perfect island as a girl was the attic under the sloping roof, unless it was summer steamy hot, or winter frosty cold. Then my nest was on my bed, or flopped on the davenport, across a chair, anywhere . . . .

My books were not like Quindlen’s list of “10 Books for a Girl Who Is Full of Beans.” I didn’t read her noble suggestions like Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Madeline, or even A Wrinkle in Time as a young girl, but I did become addicted to the Cherry Ames series, books in the mold of Nancy Drew: Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, Army Nurse, Flight Nurse. If you have read them, you may know Cherry, short for “Charity,” is the heroine in a series of 27 mystery novels with hospital settings between 1943 and 1968.

I slurped up Lucy Winchester by Mennonite author Christmas Carol Kauffman, the story of Lucy’s spiritual quest to find peace “set against the backdrop of two difficult marriages and many sorrows, broken promises, sickness, infant deaths, alcoholism, and poverty.”

LucyWInchester

In a trip up to the attic again as an adult, my sisters and I rummaged through the stash of antique books (they’re over 50!) and divvied them up among ourselves.

Yes, I read books, books, lots of them, but these are what remain from girlhood days:

ChildStorybooks

The book whose spine is taped up is entitled Bird Life in Wington (1948) a book of parables by Rev. J. Calvin Reid, pastor of  Mt. Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh,

Willie the Wolf in roadster tries to seduce Gertie Goose
Willie the Wolf with fangs in roadster ready to pounce on naive Gertie Goose

who invented the First Birderian Church of Wington to deliver sermonettes to parishioners named Professor Magpie, Baldy Eagle, Mr. Heron, a fisherman–you get the idea.

More Friends and Neighbors (Scott-Foresman & Company, 1941)
More Friends and Neighbors (Scott-Foresman & Company, 1941)

The images in this Valentine story are imprinted on my mind with cookie cutter precision, the secret to the surprise valentines that replace the snow-damaged paper cards by the window. This reader also contained the story of the “The Woman Who Used Her Head” by chopping a hole in her roof to accommodate the lofty altitude of her Christmas tree. 

I always loved to turn the page and find an etching in the Elson Junior Literature Book One
I always loved to turn the page and find an etching in the Elson Junior Literature Book One

Finally, a “real” literature book with Hawthorne’s The Great Stone Face, Emerson’s poem The Snowstorm, announced by “all the trumpets of the sky,” Longfellow’s The Courtship of Miles Standish, and Joan of Arc, the heroic maid who saved France from conquest. A vision, voices, an ancient prophecy–what could be more romantic for a plain Mennonite girl who dreamed of castles, and princes, and fulfillment, oh my!

Did this post jog your memory of textbooks, gift books, library books from your own past?

Please tell us about them.

Another invitation to vote for my story in The Gutsy Story Contest:

To Vote: http://soniamarsh.com/2014/01/vote-for-your-favorite-december-2013-my-gutsy-story.html

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