Today I got to thinking about past Valentines Days. They have been mostly special – colorful cards with cupids and hearts; flowers; candy; dinners out; and the occasional jewelry gift. All very nice.
There's one Valentine’s Day burned into my memory, even after all these years. I was in third grade and February 14 was a day of excitement and anticipation at school. A card exchange followed by pink cakes, heart candies and sweet red punch in paper cups made the day special.
Remember those little boxes of small Valentine cards you bought at the five-and-dime? Twenty-five or so tiny cards with envelopes, each with a different picture and message inside, purchased for about a dollar.
Anyone who showed up at school on Valentine’s Day having forgotten to bring cards was allowed to scoot down to Otto Williams General Merchandise store in the village during recess to pick up a box. If he had any left on the shelf, he'd give it to the child on a promise they'd bring him the money the next day.
For the party, teachers provided lunch-sized brown bags, crisp and new, for the “Valentine Mail Boxes." They were distributed and each student lettered his or her name on the bag and pictures were added according to individual artistic abilities. The bags were then lined up and thumb-tacked beneath the row of windows on one side of the classroom. At the appropriate time, students would drop Valentines into each classmate's mailbox. It was customary to give a card to each student, like them or not.
Lunchtime in the school cafeteria came and the party would soon follow. I was a somewhat picky eater during childhood, and known for trading a food on the school lunch plate I didn’t like for something better. Most of the time I was successful in this little game.
On this day, one item on the plate was a peach half canned in sugar syrup – one of my favorites. No sooner was I seated than I began bartering. Canned beef. Ick. Traded that for a peach half. Yeast roll: swapped with Larry for his peach. I had three peaches and only peas and carrots remained. I asked several children, but none were interested.
I was getting fairly desperate, as everyone was seated and the teacher had said the blessing. Eating was about to begin.
Sitting directly across the table was a plump little classmate named Louie. I had asked him once, then twice to trade. Nothing doing, he replied.
I should point out that I was a shy girl, not at all given to loud talking. But in a final act of desperation, I cried out, “Louie, honey, please give me your peach!”
Dead silence followed, for I had shouted loud enough that all 27 students heard. Immediately, raucous laughter erupted. I was mortified. Had I really said that?
And to Louie? He was a sad little guy, quite round and the class slow learner -- often ridiculed by the other boys (you know how cruel children can be!).
After the laughter died down, I slunk down in my seat and tried to disappear. I knew there would be much taunting to come. But at least it was over.
Or so I thought.
Back in the classroom, we were told it was time to distribute our Valentine cards. I noticed there was quite a bit of activity and huddling. It seemed everyone had waited until the last minute to prepare. Odd. Little did I know what was about to come my way.
You see, there was a plot devised by the “class clown” (everybody had one of those, right?) which consisted of having everyone pull from their stack their cards addressed to me, open it, mark through their own name, and write below: “Love, from Louie Honey.”
So that year, 27 Valentines placed in my third grade Valentine Mail Box bore the signature of Louie – one really from him and the others bearing the dreaded phrase I had shouted in the cafeteria. All for another silly peach half, which I didn’t get after all.
I don’t like peaches canned in sugar syrup to this day. Every time I see them I remember that day. Poor Louie, he left before the end of grammar school and I heard he died at a very young age.