Call me old fashioned, sentimental even. Go on, feel free to throw in corny if you like, but I can’t resist an old time Valentine card pun complimented with a little taste of chocolate and a “sweetheart” candy message.
In the olden days…circa 1973…I can remember such absolute happiness in receiving from my mom, my annual cardboard “book” of cards to be punched out, addressed and delivered to my elementary school classmates. Mom must’ve bought them from what she called the ‘five and dime’…Woolworth’s or Stollers near where we lived. They were paperback bound books, kinda like colouring books, but with the interior pages made of thinner cardboard than the outside covers and cut with pre-perforated edges around the Valentines which were laid out on a page like Christmas cookies being cut on rolled out dough —fit upside down and sideways to get as many ‘cards’ on a page as possible. The Valentines were of anthropomorphized animals or household objects as cute (in my seven year old mind) as the cast of Disney’s Bambi film posed hugging hearts and making declarations of love like a skunk saying “Please con-scent to be my Valentine!” or a dog with a shoe saying “I chews you”, a rabbit smelling a flower saying “Some bunny loves you” or a lollypop saying “I’m a sucker for you”. Not to mention the slew of kitten ones with “You’re the cat’s meow” or “My purr-fect Valentine!”.
I loved that I got the joke and knew the words were playing with me as I carefully punched out my cards, stacked them up and selected just the right one for each of my friends in Mrs Medvecky’s class. It was so satisfying to work my way through my classlist (furnished as well by Mom) to select just the right card for each friend. Conveniently, no deep message was required on the back of the Valentine, even that part was pre-printed with a” To” and a “From”. I just had to fill in the right name for the addressee and sign my own name by the “From:”. Laura Maloney got the best one (probably the bunny one because it looked like Thumper) as she was my best friend that year, then David Lang or Forester Fuller got hooked up with the dog or the lollypop because I harboured deep, (I imagined) secret crushes on them. The biggest Valentine in the book always went to my teacher because, like many other first graders I loved her almost as much as my mom.
Once I’d finished my stack of Valentine’s, sealing them into their matching envelopes, I put them in a brown paper lunch bag ready for the class party. At the designated time, our teacher would announce we could put our lace doily decorated shoe boxes on our desks and then we were allowed to ‘post’ our cards into to each kid’s box to be whisked home at the end of the day. There, at the privacy of our own kitchen table, we could take our time opening each Valentine. As I recall, all the moms must have shopped at the same place, because within the envelopes addressed to me where the very same dogs, bunnies, cats and lollypops I given my classmates wishing me a happy, pun-filled day.
To make sure there were no Charlie Brown moments and that we always felt special no matter who we got cards from or which design had been chosen for us, my mom always made sure to give each of us a heart shaped box of chocolates from Russell Stover. We didn’t have to share one box between the five of us. Nope. We got our very own box which felt like such a luxurious treat. To be honest, I never managed to make it through all the candy, I think I liked the heart shaped boxes in all their red and gold foil glamour better than the actual chocolates inside. It was decadent but, I hated to get caught out by the fruit flavoured or fake Peppermint Patty ones.
Either way, those hokey cards and fancy treats spoke to me along with the ‘conversation love hearts’ that came from Mom, too. In the flavours of chalky Necco wafers, the hearts dispensed from little cardboard boxes from which you could tip out one or the whole lot at a go. They were pastel coloured and stamped with messages like BE TRUE, ALL MINE, LOVE YOU, HUG ME and the risqué, LETS KISS. I loved pouring them into the palm of my hand, reading them and then popping them into my mouth. The warm heartedness they filled me with seemed disproportionately big for the size of the candy I was chewing on.
So, you can imagine my delight this week when I watched the news story sharing First Lady Jill Biden’s surprise display of giant love hearts on the lawn of the White House.
Big one word messages fit on the cut out shape of red, white and pink hearts. Words like LOVE, COMPASSION, STRENGTH and UNITY. To the bank of reporters covering the President and her stroll with their dogs past the hearts, Mrs Biden explained “ I just wanted some joy. With the pandemic—everybody’s feeling a little down, so it’s just a little joy, a little hope, that’s all.”
It was such a small gesture, but even if it was as corny as my old punny Valentine’s, it made me feel good to see those words being framed and presented in a heart. It made me feel like someone cares.
It reminded me of the power of words even ones printed on a heart poster or candy. Even ones seemingly miraculously conjured and perfectly presented in truth as Amanda Gorman’s Inauguration Day poem. Even ones shared by crowds of radicalised QAnon and Trump followers shouting hate, lies and violence with “Stop the Steal” and “Hang Mike Pence”.
Our words count, have meaning and power to lead, inspire and impact our memories, emotions and actions. They are our bond. We hold people to them. Spoken or written, they can be mightier than the sword. They can become Flesh and set an example of how we can behave, treat one another, live.
Words brazenly screamed to stoke up a frenzied crowd or quietly whispered in prayer at a bedside by a ventilator, our words are something we need to appreciate in their strength to impact our world—across lockdowns, across oceans, and across countries. The messages we send to eachother with our words, whether diatribes of fanatics or one word messages of hope—our words—they count, they move, they invoke, and they encourage.
Make no mistake, even in these dark times, they can even hearten us when shared with responsibility and compassion. One word or two, even in the form of a name, can console, warm and make us laugh more sweetly than chocolate packed in a heart shaped box.
To that end, I submit the names of the trucks spreading salt to keep snowed-in Scotland roads up and running this February 2021. I hope they make you smile if nothing else and let you snow you are loved.