Recently, my sister and I were laughing about Valentine’s Days of our childhood. Each year Mom would take us to the Kresge or Woolworth’s 5 & 10 to buy booklets of perforated Valentines. The large pages of the Valentines books each had 6 Valentines that we could very carefully punch out with the tips of the fingers. (Impatience would lead to one or two torn cards that had to be discarded.)
Nancy, my sister, and I would divide up the Valentines. Then began the tough job of choosing which card would go to which recipient. I seem to remember that in early February, our teacher sent home a list of the names of every student in our class. The purpose of the list was so we could be sure to have a Valentine for everyone. But, I hasten to note, not all Valentines were created equal – carried the same weight or emotional value. Giving a boy the doggie card (on the right above) would be embarrassingly forward. He would more likely receive a “Howdy, Pardner” card. While our best friend might get the little cocker spaniel with a special note in the red heart.
After addressing our cards on the back, “To Mary Alice, From Janice“, we began the really fun task of decorating shoeboxes to receive our Valentines. You see, on the day designated by our teachers for the Valentines party, we would bring in our Valentines for others AND a beautifully decorated, slotted shoebox as our personal mailbox. Before we commenced decorating, Mom would cut a slit into the top of the box – far too dangerous for us to undertake. Nancy and I would gather old wrapping paper, tissue paper, ribbons, buttons, lace, last year’s Valentines – anything we thought might be lovely as decorations. We would spend an entire Saturday before the party date preparing our Valentines Mailboxes. We had to carefully inscribe the boxes with our names prominently displayed so the correct Valentines would be secured in the right mailbox. Usually, we’d begin with swathing the cardboard box in pink or red tissue paper, carefully folding the ends and corners, gluing on the ribbons, lace, and buttons. We had to be careful not to glue down the box’s top, making it impossible to open the mailbox without destroying the decorations. That would never do! Even the inside of our Valentines mailboxes would be festooned with stickers, drawings, cutout pictures from magazines, whatever we fancied. (Of course, the boys’ Valentines boxes were never as pretty or interesting; sometimes they were even messy or unwrapped shoeboxes!)
At school, we would keep our Valentines mailboxes in our lockers until the end of the day, when they would be set out on our desks. (We sat at one desk all day and that same desk every day, so everyone knew where they could find us with notes, winks, or angry looks.) Finally, when the day’s work was completed, row-by-row, we would be allowed to walk around delivering our Valentines. BUT, we were not allowed to open our mailboxes until we got home from school. And so, we’d bundle up in our coats, mittens, hats, golashes, and, hugging our Valentines boxes close, trudge home through the snowbanks. Mom would have hot chocolate prepared, and we’d sit at the kitchen table and carefully open our boxes and spill the contents in a lovely, glowing pile of red and white onto the table. We’d read the names of each sender, just as though it was a huge surprise. And we would sigh and giggle at which Valentine each friend, or enemy, had chosen to send to us. (Of course, their parents had bought the same books of perforated Valentines at the 5& Dime.) When we’d looked at every one and weighed the significance of every message and picture choice, we’d put the Valentines back in the box and set them away… until some time when, alone, we would re-examine each card for any hidden message or meaning.
Ah, those were heady days, when all our hearts were so easily given and received.