I love Valentine’s Day. I love red hearts and lace doilies, heart shaped boxes of chocolate candy, sentimental messages in beautiful cards and silly messages in funny cards – – “Roses are pink. Your feet really stink.” I love large February snowflakes that can be heard and felt when they thud on my parka. I love memories of exchanging valentines in elementary school, of slipping carefully selected cards into classmates’ decorated valentine boxes, usually a decorated shoe box with a card slot on the top.
One of my earliest Valentine’s Day memories involved a contest, a valentine box contest. I was six and in first grade, and, like most of my classmates, had never exchanged valentine cards. My older siblings had, so I knew about the tradition.
My teacher, Miss Green, also loved Valentine’s Day. By mid-January she had covered the tall classroom windows with hearts and hand-cut snowflakes. She also displayed beautiful valentine cards on top of the piano. But what really made the occasion special was a bag of candy kisses tied with a pink ribbon. Miss Green had placed it on the corner of her desk after explaining, “The student who decorates the most beautiful valentine box will win the candy.” Then she added, “You may have someone help you decorate your box, a brother or sister, mom or dad.” Apparently, Miss Green intended this to be a family project.
I wasn’t especially interested in winning the candy, but I knew exactly who I would ask for help. I would ask my big sister, Betty. She was fourteen years older than I was and was a busy mom, but I knew she would not be too busy to make me a valentine box. Betty was an artist, a real artist. I loved watching her fingers when she drew. Her pencil strokes could magically make Snow White or Bambi appear on a scrap of paper. After I explained the contest to Betty, she agreed to decorate the box and promised, “It will be perfect.” And it was.
On the day of the party when I placed my box with the others on the long shelf beneath the classroom windows, my fellow first graders stared at it in awe. “You won!” Billy loudly exclaimed. Billy was the loudest kid in the class. All of the other children agreed, and so did I. It wasn’t that the other boxes were not beautiful, it was that my sister’s creation was stunning. She had first covered the box with red construction paper and over this had glued paper lace doilies. On the lid of the box, she had glued a garland of red and pink paper roses with green leaves that she had cut from construction paper. She had curled the leaves and petals to make them appear real. Finally, she tied the box with a red ribbon topping it with a beautiful bow.
Yes, I was awarded the candy and now sixty-eight years later I don’t remember whether I gave it to my sister or shared it with my classmates, but each year during valentine season, I remember my sister’s valentine box for A thing of beauty is a joy forever. Keats.