Let Me Call You Sweetheart

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I loved fairy tales and Valentine’s Day when I was a child. This was in the pre-princess era. No little girl I knew had a pink chiffon dress and tiara of her own. Oh, but we could dream’. It was appealing that somewhere out there was an admirer who was smitten by your charms.

Valentine’s Day meant reading between the lines on a card that a certain boy had sent. (Although most likely, it was one his mother picked out.) A lot of us created our own hand-made Valentines. All those flowers and hearts — easy, fun things for a non-artistic child to draw.

My daughter loved Valentine’s Day, too. Years ago, we lived next to a family who took holidays seriously. This meant a very scary house on Halloween and a big back yard egg hunt on Easter and May baskets delivered door-to-door. (May Day is a Midwestern tradition, where children make baskets of candy, ring the bell and run like the wind, lest they be kissed.) One Valentine’s Day my neighbor served a dinner that included a heart-shaped cherry Jello mold, beets, strawberry milk and a stew which included a beef heart. As I recall, this effort was not met with great enthusiasm.

One year, my daughter had a boyfriend who thought that Valentine’s Day was a silly holiday. They were poor college students and both agreed not to indulge each other with gifts. But on February 15th, Gabi called, crying. “Nothing, mom. Not even a card.”

“I thought that’s what you agreed to,” I said.

“Well, that’s what I said — I told him not to get me anything. But I didn’t mean it!” she wailed.

Is there anything bad to say about a holiday that is typified by expressing love and devotion — whose gifts are typically chocolate and roses?

Turns out – you shouldn’t research the history of Valentine’s Day all that closely. Nancy Rosin, the president of the National Valentine’s Collector’s Association has chronicled the “world’s social history of love” in the over 10,000 pieces of Valentine memorabilia she has collected. She notes that the very first Valentine was mailed in 1806. But before then – like the third century – the history of Valentine’s Day included stoning, beheading and a lottery where young girls were assigned to men in a celebrated rite of passage that today would be illegal.

As an adult, I’m not the romantic type. I appreciate that my husband makes the coffee in the morning and saves me the front page of the newspaper. If I ask, he’ll go with me for moral support to any meeting, no matter how dull. He drops me off at the door when the weather is bad. I tell him that he doesn’t have to get me anything for Valentine’s Day. But I’m not sure I mean it, either.

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