Comparison Shopper Finds His Valentine

Gump-a-bump-a-rump-a! (Repeat – repeat)

No driver wants to hear this coming from under her car hood, even if it is my aging Infiniti. When I reported these scary noises to my husband Cliff, he immediately went into Investigator Mode. His problem-solving scenario proceeded like this: visiting a neighbor who restores antique cars, checking with an auto shop we’ve used before, and then contacting the dealership, the most expensive option. He wrote down notes for each, notes with names, dates, schematics, and most importantly, dollar signs.


He handles plumbing problems at home or HVAC hang-ups the same thorough way. Whether buying a new lawnmower, computer equipment or making travel plans, my husband Cliff is a comparison shopper supreme.

Once upon a time, Cliff used this same methodical system to find suitable dates. During college he had a little black book in which he entered names of girls to date. After they passed the sensational-physical-attributes test, their names and interests were entered into this book. Some girls’ names were crossed off the list because they were too giggly, walked like a duck, or were unable to sing on key.

Cliff went into serious search mode to find a mate after an unofficial engagement fell apart. Then his college roommate suggested he meet his next-door neighbor, a teacher and a Mennonite, during Christmas vacation. We met on a blind date In December 1965. I say blind because the normal-looking Mennonites he had known from the West were very unlike the girl standing in front of him, plain with hair coiled up under a prayer cap – me.

Maybe because of the mystique of our differences or because we had similar interests, ours was a whirlwind romance sustained by letters for months after Cliff returned to post-graduate work and me to teaching. Then his letters dwindled, probably because of his hesitation about dating a girl like me from such a strange background.

He went into comparison shopping mode again as he began his first year teaching, dating a nurse from a fine family. Later, he said after he had come to his senses, “I couldn’t get you out of my mind. I thought I would miss something if I said goodbye to you forever.”

According to Cliff, two things I did sealed the deal for him.

  • I made him a monogrammed bath robe for Valentine’s which kept him from freezing on off-campus housing his last few months in college
  • I called various hospitals to try to figure out in which hospital he was a patient when he had pneumonia and was too sick to contact me.

Fortunately our friendship was rekindled when we both attended the August 1966 wedding of the couple who introduced us. Now it was Christmas 1966, and Cliff drove from Jacksonville Florida to pick me up in Charlotte, North Carolina where I was teaching. From there we headed to my hometown, in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania in his white Plymouth Savoy.

Replica of Cliff's 1963 Plymouth Savoy now offered on eBay, poster
Replica of Cliff’s 1963 Plymouth Savoy now offered on eBay, poster

There one snowy evening before Christmas Cliff said, “Let’s take a drive.” So we bundled up and headed out, crunching footprints in the new fallen snow. Fat flakes were falling from the sky even thicker as we slid into the car, the plastic seats crackling from the cold. Memories of the evening have become a movie in my mind.

“Where are we going?” I quizzed.

“Oh, I don’t know. We’ll just take a drive in this beautiful snow,” Cliff replied rather lamely.

As he tried hard to urge the heater to warm us up, we reminisced about our first dates the Christmas before. “Do you remember how deep the snow was when we went to see the Sound of Music?”

“Of course I do!” The car’s windshield wipers were swishing away mini-cotton balls of snow now.

In the back of his mind, Cliff wondered, “What will she say if I ask her to marry me?”

As we approached the archway between Rheems and Mount Joy, I exclaimed, “The road hasn’t been plowed any farther. We’re at a standstill!” We had come to a crossroads.

Then he said, “If you thought it was God’s will, would you marry me?”

Quickly I responded, “Of course I would.” But in an instant I recognized this as a marriage proposal encased in a tricky question, a snowy fleece.

“Well, then, will you marry me?”

With a “Yes,” the camera dissolved into hugs and kisses.

And yes, the little black book has been destroyed long ago.

Vintage Cut-out Card, Cliff Collection
Vintage Cut-out Card, Cliff Collection


Is there a comparison shopper in your family? Are you such a shopper?

You are invited to share your marriage proposal story here too.




Coming next: My Day of Change @ a Middle School


A Box of Choc’lates

Actor Tom Hanks in the movie Forrest Gump tries to strike up a conversation with a tired nurse seated beside him on a park bench. Holding a box of chocolates in his hand, Forrest offers her a treat, “My mother always said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” You remember the scene. Here is a 38-second clip from the movie:



“Health by chocolate” is one of the phrases that popped up on the web when I researched the health benefits of eating chocolate, which may stem from the antioxidant flavonoids find in the cacao bean. Another website listed 9 benefits of eating chocolate. Rich and delicious dark chocolate especially (at least 70 % cacao, a disease-killing bullet) is “good for more than healing a broken heart” it touts.

Among the nine benefits included in this article were a healthy heart, possible weight loss (because it lessens one’s cravings for other sweet, salty, and fatty foods), stress reduction, and even higher intelligence in the short term because chocolate boosts blood flow to the brain.

The box of chocolates Forrest Gump was holding contains way more calories than this article suggests because the candies were probably filled with nougat, sweet cherries, caramel, and other taste-bud ticklers. But he’s right, unless the box lid is imprinted with the different flavors, you never know what you are going to get. Usually, though, the surprise is pleasant.


In the 2000 movie Choclat, Vianne Rocher, played by Juliette Binoche, tries to guess Roux’s (Johnny Depp’s) favorite chocolate confection. Vianne tries more than once to offer the treat that will get an “Aha” from him, including presenting him with one in a special white box. Later she succeeds unexpectedly as you can see here:


Receiving or giving a box of chocolates (or even savoring hot chocolate) is a welcome experience any time of year.

What is your relationship with chocolate? What is your favorite kind of chocolate?

What do you think of the Forrest Gump quote?

Coming next: Signs and Wonders at Chincoteague!

Valentines: Scissors, Glue, a Bottle Cap or Two

Remember punching out valentine cards that came 8-10 to a page and addressing them to send to your classmates? Back then the do-it-yourself craze hadn’t caught on in the Valentine’s Day department. A least, not at Rheems Elementary School. Though we may have made a special card for Mom in art class, shiny, mass-produced cards were de rigueur for others.

Now websites galore displays steps, even videos, for creating your signature card. Author and Visual artist Kathryn McCullough suggests: “If spending a small fortune on store-bought greeting cards doesn’t appeal to you and you have an old phone book, scissors, and glue, maybe a bottle cap or two (and a bit of imagination), you can create a Valentine that expresses love for both your partner and the planet.” She promises that if you can cut and paste, you can create a card from scratch that looks like this:


My husband Cliff, like Kathryn, is a visual artist and sometimes comes up with hand-made cards, none of which requires a button or a glue gun.

Cliffs Valentine Card_1976_inside_final_5x4_300

I, on the other hand, buy my valentines in a store. Once though I got up the nerve to make my own card, raiding my sewing closet and cutting up old cards, fashioning lace and felt paper into my version of a DIY Valentine. Here is the result, a little worse for the wear:

1982_0200_Valentine Lace Card_from Marian

Kids create spontaneously and usually don’t want to bother with bottle caps, lace or fancy paper. Crayons, construction paper and doily hearts will do too.

Jenna's Valentine
Jenna’s Valentine
Patrick's card
Patrick’s card

Did you ever create a valentine from trash? When was the last time you made (or received) a home-made valentine?

Share your story: A Memorable Valentine’s Day


Coming next: A Box of Choc’lates!

Be My Valentine


“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!