I remember when Valentine’s Day had a whole different meaning for me than it does now.
Nowadays, for attached males like myself, Feb. 14th represents just one more gift-giving opportunity to find myself in The Doghouse for making a bad decision, along with The Anniversary Gift, The Birthday Gift, and The Christmas Gift.
The worst decision for any of these Gift Giving Occasions is, of course, no decision at all, for which one may find himself in The Doghouse for quite a long period of time. I speak from experience.
I am also quite experienced in the fine art of choosing the Wrong Gift. (Space does not allow me to give you the list… you’ll have to wait for the book.)
Back in grammar school, Valentines Day was a lot less pressure for me. We traded Valentines with the other members of our class. Sometime, we even traded candy hearts with mushy messages like “You’re the One”, “Be Mine”, or “A Friend Indeed”.
I always took candy hearts for the class, or some other bargain Mom found for me at Cromer’s Peanuts… occasionally even one of their little novelty toys, which made me feel like Mr. Big of the Third Grade. I was oblivious to the fact that the trinkets only cost a few cents each when you buy them in bulk. It was a TOY – like a yo-yo, a whistle, or a plastic spider – and I gave one to each of my classmates!!! Valentine’s Day was great.
It was also at Valentine’s Day that Mom first taught my siblings and me one of the lessons that would shape us for years to come: “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”
During our annual ritual of addressing our Valentines to our classmates, Mom checked to make sure we had included each classmate, and found that we hadn’t. Turns out, even in the second grade, we pick favorites, and ignore those who we deem less popular.
That’s when my Mom first suggested to us that we ought to be considerate of the feelings of ALL our classmates… even those who might be less popular. Some of them, she told us, might not get ANY Valentines, which would be a shame. It was a something we had never thought of before, like most other kids of tender years.
She illustrated her point by telling of her own experience from her childhood. Coming from a rural family of meager means, there was no money to buy Valentine Cards to exchange, as the “town children” did. So she made her own Valentines by hand. Then she chose the prettiest one – the very best of all -- to give to the most popular girl in her class… only to be heartbroken when the girl immediately tore it up and threw it away.
Mom told us that story, and we got the point. From that day on, we all understood that it’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice. We learned to always try to think about the feelings of others.
That year, the less popular classmate who had originally been left off of the Valentine Card list… well, she actually got TWO Valentines addressed to her, just to make sure she didn’t feel left out.
Every February, three important lessons come to mind as I recall the story Mom told us:
First, little things can make a big difference. A thoughtless slight by a school-child three-quarters of a century ago is still recalled generations later.
Second, parents instill values in their children. For better or worse, children learn what they live.
And third, be nice to people. We forget that sometimes, even here in the South where we actually enjoy being nice.
I don’t know if they still exchange Valentines in schools these days. I sort of doubt they do, the way things have changed. But if they do, it might be a good opportunity for you to instill some of those core values of friendship and caring into a future generation or two.
And, just in case nobody else gives YOU a Valentine Card this year…