Janet Sheridan: Memories of Valentine’s Day

Janet Sheridan
Janet Sheridan
Courtesy photo

I collect antique valentines. One is a 12-inch square with a windmill that spins and a sailboat that moves back and forth between two waves. A lime-colored card from 1942 shows a boy riding a turtle while declaring, “If you my Valentine will be, you can come and ride with me.” Another, inscribed “To Grandpa from Douglas on Feb. 14,1930,” features a grinning lad at a fishing hole. I assume it was Douglas, not Grandpa, who wrote “me” in wobbly letters above the illustration.

My interest in collecting old valentines no doubt flows from my happy memories of school valentine parties.

When I was in sixth grade, Mr. Ralphs, a good teacher who was baffled by arts and crafts, sent a letter home asking our mothers to help us decorate valentine boxes at home so he would have more time to teach multiplication.

My mom was the smartest person alive and could make anything. I knew she’d create the best valentine box ever. Sure enough, without even thinking about it, she suggested I glue the top on a shoebox, stand it on end, cut a slit in the back, construct a roof from another shoebox lid, cover the structure with white butcher paper, and make a valentine house with different sizes of cut-out hearts for the windows, doors, and shingles — a sure winner.

My glee turned to dismay when she assumed I would make the house myself. I protested and pleaded until I received her I’ve-had-enough look, then went to work: covering the floor with paper scraps, spilling the glue, and shrieking when siblings of ill repute wandered too near.

Mom calmly continued her dinner preparations, but took time to show me how to create a chimney with valentine puffs of smoke rising on a red pipe cleaner. Finally, finished and filled with pride, I took a red crayon and printed my name over the front door.

The next day, I carefully carried my box to school on the bus, using vicious threats and sharp elbows when others tried to touch it. During class, I had trouble concentrating, preferring to gaze at my house on the windowsill surrounded by lesser efforts.

On Valentine’s Day, when we were allowed to open our boxes, I collected it from the windowsill and gasped with horror. Next to my name, some miscreant had used an orange crayon to write, “is my grilfrend.” I was appalled at the damage to my house and offended by the color-blind lout who thought I was his girlfriend and couldn’t even spell it. I fretted and moped until I saw Mr. Ralph’s wife had made huge, heart-shaped cookies, liberally frosted, for our party.

As a teacher, I retained my fondness for Valentine’s Day while my enthusiasm for other school celebrations faltered: I tired of Halloween festivities that featured costume malfunctions and children hitting each other with the Fairy Godmother’s wand, Bozo’s air horn, or Elvis’s guitar.

The Christmas season was crowded and busy, I hardly had the energy to laugh when children glued more glitter on their noses than on the ornaments they made for the school tree or to smile when they unabashedly wore construction-paper creations on their heads — elf hats, reindeer horns, snowflakes — to sing and dance during the Christmas program.

But I anticipated the valentine party and celebrated as happily as the students. I relished the feeling that filled the room when children spilled out the contents of their boxes and began reading their valentines. Quiet chatter and giggling ruled until the bell rang and they trooped home with their treasures. And I always made huge, heart-shaped cookies, liberally frosted, for my students.

Nicholas Sparks wrote, “Love is like the wind. You can’t see it, but you can feel it.” For many years, I felt it in classrooms on Valentine’s Day.

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