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The Valentine Box

Judie Butterfield

(Feb, 2012) Long before Hallmark, Snoopy, and Disney Princesses got hold of it, Valentine’s Day was a holiday of construction-paper hearts, red doilies, messy glops of white paste and mysterious crayon-written attributions such as "From your very best friend next door, Guess Who?" and "From your second cousin twice removed, Guess Who?".

These anonymous messages of warm feelings were carefully dropped in the classroom’s Valentine Box, a crepepaper-covered masterpiece with ruffled corners and decorated sides. The slit in the top of the box ensured no peeking, so its contents were not known until the teacher, on Valentine’s Day, opened it and called the names of the recipients one-by-one.

In my third grade year, February dawned with my increasing dread of the holiday approaching. The previous year I had received only one valentine and that one from the teacher! This was probably due to my unmanageable straggly hair, my missing front teeth, and my highly combative nature that frequently took advantage of unusually skinny, pointed elbows. I wept long and loudly on the shoulder of my grandfather and was only consoled by his promises that I could choose the flavor of the next batch of homemade ice cream and I could stay home with a feigned illness the next February 14th.

My grandmother, however, would have none of that and marched me off to school as I clutched my midsection bemoaning my imaginary stomachache. "I’ll probably die before recess!" I wailed to no avail.

I sulked at my desk as the appointed box-opening time drew agonizingly closer. Miserably, I closed my eyes and waited for the worst. But then…a miracle!

Again and again my name was called until my desk was covered in Valentines, every bit as many as Cora Kay Collier (she of the naturally curly red hair and real live pony in her back yard)! I raced home to share them one by one with my grandfather and basked in each colorful affirmation that a real live pony was less important than secret friends.

Years later, at my grandfather’s funeral, my third grade teacher was to take my hands in hers and share with me a secret she had held for some time. On that fateful day long ago, my grandfather had come to the classroom on some fraudulent mission and when he thought no one saw, reached into his pockets and dropped handfuls of valentines into the box, thus sparing his beloved granddaughter the heartbreak of the previous year.

And so on this Valentine’s Day, as I do each year, I will sit down and make a Valentine for someone who will not receive it but who I’m sure will know I did. I’ll paste doily scraps to cut-out hearts, take crayon in hand, and write "Love from your granddaughter, Guess Who?"

Judie Butterfield spent her childhood in a small south-Georgia town in the 1940’s. She currently lives with her husband in Gettysburg, and serves as the Borough’s recycling chairman and the website manager.

Read other articles by Judie Butterfield