Monday, February 13, 2012

A Valentine Story

So, it’s Valentine’s Day—that holiday has never been at the top of my favorite holiday list. Labor and Memorial Day—good, relaxing, do-nothing, chill out days. Thanksgiving—good food, get to see the kids, Cowboys football, nice. Christmas—a lot like Thanksgiving without the Cowboys football, and you get to add seasonal music, presents, and a Christmas Eve service. But Valentine’s Day—a lot risk there, a lot of chances to mess things up. What if I don’t get Dayna the right present or what if Walmart sells out of flowers before I get there? There’s a lot on the line. Just never much liked Valentine’s Day.

It probably stems from my childhood. You remember those days in grammar school when you exchanged Valentines with your classmates. Your mom bought you a box of those little bitty Valentines to sign and give away. You took an old shoe box in art class, decorated it with construction paper and crayons, and cut a slit in the top so that the rest of the class could slip a Valentine in your box. I hated that day in art class. Did you know that one of the chief differences between monkeys and humans is that monkeys do not have opposable thumbs? Well, when it comes to art projects, I don’t have opposable thumbs either—never did—so my Valentine box looked like a monkey made it.

But hey, we all have our gifts, and I could pop my armpit better than anybody in my class. So what if I stunk at classic art projects; is there not a certain artistry to popping one’s pit in ways that could make all the classic sounds of flatulence? But I digress.

Anyway, in spite of my pathetic Valentine’s box, my fifth-grade Valentine’s Day held the potential to be a big day for me. And here’s why: Anne Wilcox. I was some kind of sweet on Anne Wilcox—this pretty little blue-eyed, blonde-haired cutie. When I first saw her, Cupid didn’t just shoot me with one arrow; he emptied the whole quiver right into my heart. You see, I’d recently moved to Branson from Arkansas; she’d just moved to Branson from Mississippi; we were the only two in class that had yet to learn that the Civil War was over and that the North had won. She was a fifth-grade southern belle. And you know what the Beach Boys were singing about southern girls: “And the southern girls with the way they kiss / they keep their boyfriends warm at night.” I was in love, smitten. She was Juliet to my Romeo, Cleopatra to my Antony, Bonnie to my Clyde. There was just one problem. According to fifth-grade etiquette in that day, I dare not tell her. At best I could tell only a couple of my people who would talk to a couple of her people and see if she liked me back. That process was still in the works. I had yet to receive word back from my spies. It was all quiet on the Southern front. So I was banking on Valentine’s Day to give me my answer.

It was zero hour. Kids went around the room dropping their Valentine’s into the slots on the other kids’ boxes. And then it was time to open the Valentines. I tore the lid off my box, shuffling through those Valentine envelopes with the speed and dexterity of a 100-word-a-minute typist, looking for the one that said “Anne.” What? Huh? None of them said “Anne.” Then it dawned on me: all of them said “John.” Duh! What was I thinking? Fifth-graders don’t put return addresses on classroom Valentines, you moron. But I shook it off and got my head back in the game. I took the first Valentine from the box, then the next, and the next, picking up speed like a racehorse on the home stretch, searching, searching, searching, for the Valentine from Anne. And then, pay-dirt! I pulled just enough of that Valentine from the envelope to see Anne’s name. So I just stopped right there to enjoy the moment. I held it to my nose to see if she had laced the envelope with perfume. She had not. I retrieved the Valentine from the envelope, careful not to tear it. Wow! It was a great Valentine, a cut out of some flop-eared dog, as I recall, and a message that was sheer poetry—so simple, yet so profound and so personal I’m a little embarrassed to share it even after all these years. You want to hear what it said? “Happy Valentine's Day!” There was only one conclusion to draw: she loves me! She really loves me!

I dared not make eye contact with her in that tender moment, however. But I had to tell someone. So I leaned over to one of my spies, “Look at the Valentine Anne gave me.” He took it from me, looked at it. I was desperate for a second opinion, to see if he saw in it what I saw in it. “What do you think?” I said.

And he said, “I think she gave me the same one.” Wah, wah, wah, wahhhhh. That wasn’t glass my classmates heard breaking in that moment; it was my heart. There would be no Anne for me.

Okay, I admit it: the crush was real; I made up the story. It would be a few more years before I would find my true Valentine, and I’m still holding on to her today. Her name is Dayna and for almost 35 years her last name has been McCallum. And when I give her a valentine, I don’t give the same one to anyone else.

So let me go on record and say, “Thank you, God, for my valentine, Dayna—just one more indication that you treat me better than I deserve. Help me to treat her heart the way you treat ours—with love, understanding, respect, patience, and grace. And no matter how many years you give us together, may I love her even more at the end than I did at the beginning. Amen.”

Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody!

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