Valentine’s Day always seemed special for me, but I don’t really know why.
In my early years, being a very shy kid, I think it was being able to send a love note to a special girl. Sending a written note with “be my valentine” on it avoided being rejected (within breathing range) for my acknowledgment of feelings. I never gave much thought to its origin, it was just a special day when everybody could express their thoughts. I looked upon it as if two people were holding a pair of dice and when tossed on the table they came up with the same numbers — bingo, maybe this is a good omen.
I recently read Valentine’s Day is the second most celebrated holiday worldwide. Surely such a popular holiday deserved a closer look. So I Googled it and discovered it has been around since the second century. First of all several early Christian martyrs were named Valentine — however the date of Feb. 14 kept reemerging and became commonplace for all celebrations connected with them. The martyr we are closely related to performed a miracle on the blind daughter of a jailer by restoring her sight. He wrote a farewell note to her before his execution and signed it “from your Valentine.”
Before the 15th century, Valentine’s Day took on the association of romantic love. And by the end of that century, greeting cards were commonplace. All were hand-written and soon the icons of winged cherubs, roses, candy and hearts became symbolic with the day. The most popular valentine poem was found in “Gammer Gurton’s Garland,” a 1784 collection of English nursery rhymes, and has since been the brunt of many jokes:
Roses are red, Violets are blue,
The honey’s sweet and so are you.
Thou art my love and I am thine,
I slew thee to my Valentine.
The lot was cast and then I drew,
And fortune said it should be you.
In the United States, the first mass-produced valentine cards were produced by Ester Howland in 1847, replacing the hand-written ones. All cards sent or given today in the U.S. number more than 1 billion.
Many personal holidays are celebrated on the nearest weekend so family and friends can be together to celebrate — not Valentine’s Day. It is always celebrated on Feb. 14. For many years, Judy and I followed that tradition, no matter what. One year it snowed all day long, accumulating more than a foot by the time I got off work and it kept on snowing. We lived in the country and I barely made it home. When I announced that I had made reservations at the Old Missouri Homestead for 7 p.m., Judy protested, saying, “We cannot go out in this storm, we’ll never make it back home.” I responded by telling her we had a big tractor sitting out there with a cab and heater and dual rear wheels, we’ll be fine. So that’s what we did and it became a memorable night. I guess the saint was looking out for us.
Over the years, two out-of-town Valentines celebrations stand out. My good friend, John Roos, was born on Valentine’s Day and on one of those milestone birthdays he invited us to come to St. Louis for a grand party. It was a formal affair, so Judy bought a new dress. It was a spectacular black, long dress with a see-through top that went up around the neck, accompanied by a white sequined jacket. She looked like a million dollars in it.
Arriving at the hotel, she hung the dress up in the closet and we went downstairs for a drink. Back in our room, we began changing clothes for the big affair. Judy searched through the suitcase then exclaimed, “I didn’t pack any undies.” She just wore her jacket all evening.
On another occasion, I had just passed my instrument check ride for my private pilot license. The next day was Valentine’s Day; Judy flew to Greensboro, S.C., to celebrate with me and to fly back home together. On the way to pick her up, I bought a bouquet of flowers to surprise her. When we met at the airport we surprised each other, as she had a bouquet, too.
It was 33 years ago that we gave each other the best valentine of all: our son David was born on Feb. 14.
Happy Valentines Day!