Valentine’s Day in a Shoe Box

It is that time of the year again when the store aisles are bleeding red with Valentine’s paraphernalia. At the local Walmart the other day I almost became a single person fatality when an avalanche of giant stuffed animals wearing Valentine themed shirts fell from the shelves. Rows of heart shaped boxes, perfume, cards, conversation hearts that, when strung together, create sentences more disjointed than a text from a 13 year old, and roses by the dozen all culminate to assault the senses and empty the wallet. The holiday seems to be designed to kill you with candy while providing flowers for the funeral.

All sarcasm aside, when I think of Valentines Day I am transported to Mrs. Grandstrand’s 1st grade classroom. My classmates and I are seated around a long scarred oak table like we are about to hold a séance. In front of each of us is a shoe box and in the middle of the table are stacks of construction paper, glue, old magazines, tissue paper, brightly colored plastic scissors, crayons, markers, and the ever adored pinking shears. With a word from Mrs. Grandstrand we are off like a flash. Art supplies go flying, scissors are snipping, and flakes of tissue paper saturated in glue are melting onto the surface of the table where they will remain forever, a testament to our efforts like the markings of ancient civilizations.

Back in the day (way, way, way before Pinterest, Etsy, and online tutorials) it was a tradition to save the very best shoe box from the whole year and spend a morning at school transforming it into a gaudily decorated receptacle for Valentine’s cards. We, as children, called upon every creative atom in our 6 year old bodies and, with brows furrowed in concentration, set about the task of wowing the teacher and our parents with our crafting prowess.

Then, the big day arrived. The shelf in the back of the classroom would be lined with our finished masterpieces ranging from the delicately decorated creation of my friend Sara who always did everything perfectly, to the giant men’s boot sized box covered in brown paper and a strategically placed ad for women’s bras that the classroom misfit found in one of the magazines. His reasoning behind the ad on his box was “They had lace on them Teacher, you said to decorate with lace!” The type of twisted logic which landed Patrick in the principal’s office in our strict private school on more than one occasion.

Once the commotion died down, Patrick’s “offensive” box was removed from the lineup and replaced with a plain Buster Brown one with Patrick’s name written across the top in the teacher’s precise hand. After a prayer to save Patrick’s soul we were finally allowed to commence with the festivities. We went down the row inserting cards into the slot on the top of each box. The cards ranged in theme from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Snow White and Donald Duck. Some were fancier than the dime store variety I could afford. Incased in ivory envelopes printed like fine lace were cards beautifully illustrated and decorated with velvet and scented with chocolate. These came from the dentist’s daughter who was not afraid to flaunt her wealth and who often times reminded me of Nellie Olson from Little House on the Prairie with her pug nose, blonde hair, intolerable disposition.

Fancy or plain, there was a certain thrill about opening each envelope and waiting to see if that boy in the second row sent a special card just for you. Ahhh, first grade romance. My dabbling in the subject amounted to a hug followed the next day by being pushed off the top of the slide by my beloved and breaking my nose. The next day I returned the favor by giving him a black eye and getting myself sent to the Principal’s office.

Then, suddenly I was not in the first grade anymore but in high school where Valentine’s Day took on a whole different meaning. Hormone driven boys appeared on the bus loaded down with flowers, candy, and wearing enough cologne so that if the gifts didn’t make their girlfriends swoon the Old Spice would!

Middle school and high school were awkward years for me. I was tall and clumsy with glasses and horribly curly hair that was the result of the perm from hell. So, I would sit on the sidelines and gag as my friends exclaimed over how sweet their boyfriends were on Valentine’s Day. I was bitter, I will not lie. Life had dealt me an unfair hand in the form a of a crooked nose caused by my one and only attempt at love, ugly glasses, and hair that made me look like a poodle had overdosed on acid on my head thanks to a beautician who was intoxicated every day by 9am. But, I digress. The fact is that I hated Valentine’s Day with a passion and let the whole world know about it.

Finally, in my 20’s, someone asked me out and saved me from becoming the first Lutheran nun in history. I got roses on Valentine’s Day that first year together and I got to see what the hype was all about. Too practical to ever be a hopeless romantic, I found it to be kind of nice getting wined and dined one day out of the year. (My expectations were pretty low back then)

Years passed and I soon discovered that I was not the only one being wined and dined. In fact, he was filling more shoe boxes than Nike in those 8 years we were together. So, my view on Valentine’s Day darkened to Ebenezer Scrooge-type proportions once again. I cursed the day and scowled at all the cutesy decorations and declarations of love. The holiday was forever ruined for me and I kept a box of goose loads by my side just in case Cupid dared to enter my “no fly” zone.

Then something happened to change my outlook on everything. I was working one particular Valentine’s Day when an elderly gentleman came into my office to pick up his wife’s death certificate. He looked tired and sad, his shirt collar had lost its starch and he had not shaved in days. I asked him how long he had been married and he replied “All my life!” I smiled and he continued “Now don’t go thinking I am some funny old man for saying that. My life began the day I married her.”

I left work that night humbled. Instead of going home to my mint chip ice cream, Hallmark movies, and my cats on the couch I went out and bought bouquets of flowers and took them to the local nursing home to hand out. I was met with love, kindness, and gratitude and I wondered to myself how I could have gotten the meaning of the holiday so wrong in the past.

One particular lady asked me to sit with her as she looked at her bouquet of flowers. She told me a story of how the day after her wedding her groom was sent over seas to fight the war. They kept in touch with letters and each kept a dog eared snapshot of the other close to their hearts. Then the letters stopped. She knew her husband was busy fighting a war but she was not expecting the knock at the door. Instead of her beloved, there stood a stranger. In a matter of seconds she went from being a wife to being a widow. She never remarried, never took off her ring, and never forgot how that once in a lifetime love felt.

That, my friends, is what it is all about. Sharing love with those around us. You do not need to have a romantic relationship to celebrate Valentine’s Day. All you need is a heart and the capacity to share love with others.

Need further motivation? Go home tonight, call upon all of you childhood crafting powers and make a shoe box Valentine container? Yes, I mean take a shoe box, cut a slit in the top and decorate it like crazy. Don’t hold back, make it yours. And then ask friends and family to fill it with paper hearts on which they have written special messages to you. Then write some of your own motivational quotes, Bible verses, prayers, sayings, sentences giving yourself encouragement and love, or plans on how to make the year ahead a good one such as going out and visiting people in nursing homes. Fill the box with enough hearts for the entire year ahead. Every morning open the box and remove one heart. Read it to yourself and let it guide your day. The theme of Valentine’s Day is love. That means to love others and to love yourself!

Hopefully my post gave you all something to think on for this Valentine’s Day. Like I said, all you need is a heart and the willingness to share it and you will never be alone on Valentine’s day or any day for that matter. Go on now! Spread the love!

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