As Yet Another Valentine’s Day Looms ...
Forsooth, I am as melancholy as a failed Victorian lover. Another Valentine’s Day looms.
Last year, I gave my beautiful wife something pretty darn wonderful, if I may say so myself, though for the moment I can’t recall exactly what it was.
Possibly it was the splendid new vegetable hand peeler that said in no uncertain terms, “I sure love your bouillabaisse.” Or maybe it was that swell book of discount car wash coupons that was good for a free small espresso on Tuesdays.
Back in our early married days, there was that great commemorative set of four official dishwasher-safe New England Patriot Super Bowl plastic beer mugs, a Valentine’s Day gift made doubly sweet because the Patriots failed to make the playoffs that year, and the glasses were, appropriately, super cheap.
The point is, every year as winter fades, I spend whole minutes of the lengthening days leading up to America’s beloved pseudo-holiday of the heart feeling a wee little bit like a man on his way to face the gallows wearing a clown suit. I accept the end is imminent, I am doomed to fail at material romance, there’s simply no escaping the outcome. But I just can’t abide that everyone will be laughing at my earnest efforts.
Five minutes ago, for instance, a young married friend named Dan breezed into my office wearing the confident smile of a fellow who seemed to have St. Valentine by the short hair, so to speak. I asked him what steps he’d taken to secure the affections of his beloved, come Monday.
“Oh, that’s easy,” he came back with a way-too-satisfied grin. “I’ve arranged for the Golf Capital Chorus to come to my wife’s workplace and serenade her — followed by the delivery of a dozen roses.”
“Ah, the safe classical approach. Sweet but a dangerous precedent,” I felt compelled to advise. “You may well set the bar impossibly high.”
“How about you?” he wondered.
“I’m still deciding between the Triple-A authorized jumper cables and an emergency road pack.”
Dan, callow youth, merely laughed.
The two young women who toil daily in my office were no help.
“I say a trip somewhere warm,” cooed Ashley. “Like Tahiti.” She confided that her boyfriend Josh was planning something on a traveling nature or concert tickets. “After all, he bought us tickets to Bonnaroo. It was awesome.”
“Real diamond earrings are never out of style,” chipped in stylish Katherine, mother of infant Jack. Husband Eric, a lawman, she guessed, was thinking chocolates. “In the past I’ve gotten roller blades, a gourmet head scratcher, and an official Virginia Tech blanket. I’m personally holding out for fuzzy handcuffs.”
“My kind of guy,” I said.
“Or one complete day of no dirty diapers,” she added.
“Can’t help you there, I’m afraid,” I told her.
Knee Socks: Perfect
Modern psychologists will tell you our social habits and personality traits are learned, for better or worse, by age 10.
That year I was in Mrs. Brown’s fifth-grade class and she asked our class to bring small gifts and Valentines to give to each other. My V-Day issues really begin there. I brought awesome Sherry Reynolds a new pair of cotton tube knee socks.
Believe me, Sherry looked great in knee socks. From the side view, at least above the knee, you’d swear you were looking at a young Liz Taylor. Unfortunately, several other would-be suitors brought Sherry even better gifts, including class fool Woody Goolerick, who sprung for a real bottle of toilet water, which, being Woody, I regret to say, we initially assumed might have really come from the Goolerick family toilet.
He’s the same guy, after all, who gave our retiring seventh-grade homeroom teacher, sweet and elderly Mrs. Motley, a vivid purple brassiere on behalf of the class. But that’s another story entirely.
I received no gifts from admirers, merely a handful of paper Valentines from the same girl, Deeny Roberts, who had the kind of teeth that placed one in mind of a horse eating an apple through a fence. On the upside, Deeny could kick a kickball miles farther than any boy in the class, which meant she was always first to be chosen for any game. At least I clearly had the inside track come recess with Deeny Roberts
My courtship of the gorgeous and elusive Sherry Reynolds, alas, dragged into another Valentine season. The next year, upping my game considerably, I rode my bike six miles just to hand-deliver a 45 rpm recording of Johnny Tilliton’s “Save Your Heart For Me.”
She politely invited me in, played it once, then primly suggested I hit the bricks because she was going to the movies with Brad Cox. He later went on to become assistant fire chief of Greensboro. Sherry must have liked guys in uniform.
I gave up on her in seventh grade and began a quiet campaign for Kathy Kenan, whose mama ran the school cafeteria. For Valentine’s Day that year, I saved up my lawn-mowing dough and bought Kathy two tickets to see the touring “Shindig Show” starring Bobby Sherman and Paul Revere and the Raiders. She took her best friend or her mother, I forget which.
I could go on and on with one Valentine’s Day disaster after another. It was either the wrong gift or the wrong girl, or sometimes a combination of both.
A Creepy Dance
We’ll mercifully skip the others and jump straight to the year my own daughter Maggie turned 9 and asked me to take her to the annual Father-Daughter Valentine’s Day dance in our small Maine town.
Putting aside my own discomfort with the very idea of such a fete — I waffled between the words “creepy” and “cute” — I agreed to do so, especially since her arch-rival Mandy would present with her daddy, a lobsterman.
We arrived with Maggie wearing an adorable age-appropriate cream dress her mom had bought for Easter. The ballroom of the cheesy motel was loud with Spice Girls wailing and the flashing lights of a turning disco ball. Fortunately, I spotted my friends Randy and Tom with their prepubescent daughters, and we made a protective scrum of fathers and daughters.
Unfortunately, many of the other girls were slightly older and dressed as if their little-girl dreams included working a street corner by 18. My daughter and I danced once to the song “Shout!” (which became her favorite dance song of all time) and went to get a cup of fruit punch. At that point, the aforementioned Evil Mandy sashayed over and said something that put Maggie in tears. We soon departed the ball — chalking up another Valentine’s Day triumph for you-know-who.
On the plus side, we went to the movies instead and had a great night out.
For the record, Maggie grew up to be a slim and graceful beauty, her daddy’s pride and joy. I have no idea what kind of young woman Mandy grew up to be. Lo these many years later, in any case, it’s a darn good thing I’m married to a woman who understands and sympathizes with my natural aversion to Valentine’s Day, my long and painful history of Valentine-itis.
Cost Be Damned
But this year, by golly, even I decided to upgrade my V-Day gift-giving. Damn the jumper cables and fuzzy handcuffs, I decided!
The other afternoon, out for a stroll through town with a welcome touch of spring in the air, I ambled past a shop window that displayed an artificial grass-and-willow wreath with pink spring buds that looked so real it immediately transported me ahead into the glory of April — which is, I must say, my bride’s favorite month in these parts. She’s almost counting the days until warmth returns.
I promptly stepped in and inquired as to its price. It was ridiculously expensive — well, at least compared with jumper cables — but I’m convinced she’ll view my Valentine’s Day gift this year as a symbol of the returning season, love springing eternal, the ideal expression of my enduring love for her being able to endure such a cheap husband.
Deeny Roberts, bless her heart, the first girl who ever chose me, wherever she is today, would probably be proud how romanic I’ve grown. I suspect she eventually got her teeth fixed and is some aging beauty queen by now, still able to kick that ball a country mile.
Just hope I haven’t set the bar too high.
Award-winning author Jim Dodson, Sunday essayist with The Pilot and editor of PineStraw magazine, can be reached at email@example.com.
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