Away with the Teddy Bears and Pity Flowers
I am the Scrooge of Valentine's Day. Bah humbug, I say. I think it started the year I was the recipient of pity flowers. I was 16, waiting tables at a mediocre but popular restaurant. On this rainy Valentine's evening, the restaurant overflowed with floral arrangements. (And by arrangements, I mean sprays of baby's breath and carnations with a few paltry roses thrown in.)
Every few moments, a delivery guy popped in with flowers for one of the waitresses. But not me. Without a boyfriend and happy to be so, I ignored the flowers and focused on serving tables of teenagers who were sure to be lousy tippers.
Then some of my regulars walked in. This Tammy Faye Bakker look-alike came in every week with her gruff husband and silent teenage son.
I approached the table, and after I took their orders, Tammy Faye asked which flowers were mine. Her tarantula eyes widened when I answered none.
"You mean you don't have a boyfriend?" she asked. Was it my imagination, or did she get a devious gleam in her eye when I said no?
I barely noticed when Tammy Faye and company departed because it was a busy night. When at last it was time to lock the doors, I heard Noreen sign in exasperation.
"Here are some latecomers," she complained, looking out the window. I knew why she was annoyed. She didn't want to be delayed from her date (with whom, I did not know). Noreen had scored an impressive four floral arrangements from suitors that night.
I joined her at the window and was horrified by what I saw. It wasn't late diners. It was Tammy Faye and company. The son stood in the drizzle, holding a gigantic arrangement of red roses. And Tammy Faye stood behind him, all but shoving him toward the restaurant door.
Noreen figured out what was happening and called all the employees up to watch. The poor guy reached the door, clearly embarrassed and red in the face. He handed me the flowers without speaking and sprinted back to his parents. Tammy Faye waved heartily at me, yelling, "Happy Valentine's Day, shug!"
And all I could think was, "Pity flowers? I got pity flowers for Valentine's Day?"
In the years since, I have participated in the Valentine's Day hoopla, but like the poor teenager reluctantly delivering flowers to me, it felt forced.
Candlelit dinners staring across the table at a date with whom I suddenly had nothing to say. Generic greeting cards written by a stranger and purchased out of obligation. Waxy, inedible chocolates that will be tossed into the trash unopened.
Hideous white teddy bears clutching a satin pillow embroidered with "I love you." Come on. Nothing says to an adult woman "I don't know what to buy you" like a teddy bear.
Early in my marriage, I finally declared, "Enough." The shared bank account helped me along to that decision (You paid WHAT for flowers?), and Patrick was more than happy to be freed from obligation. We successfully ignored Valentine's Day until Isabella came along.
Then everything changed. As soon as she was old enough to grasp that there was a whole holiday about love, Isabella has had an earnest desire to show affection to friends. She truly thinks giving valentines to her friends is important, and she is excited to receive those generic cards I loathe.
Her enthusiasm is catching. Looking through her innocent eyes, I have come to see Valentine's Day as a time to celebrate love among friends.
My cold Scrooge heart melted, and my view of Valentine's as a day of forced romantic gestures evaporated.
In its place grew an appreciation for the friends who enrich my life. Who make me laugh. Who pull me out of dark times. Who teach me. Who encourage me. Who are so different from each other - and me - that they make my life feel like a puzzle come together. I see now that even my pity flowers were, in fact, flowers of friendship from a woman intent on sharing love.
No longer a Scrooge, I look forward to a Valentine's Day in which I, too, can spread love. Except I'll do it without pricey dinners, pricier flowers and forlorn-looking teddy bears.
Contact Melanie Coughlin at coughlin@embarqmail. com.
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