Somewhere in my keepsakes I acquired from my parents’ farm is a box of letters my classmates sent me in the third grade. They are all written in pencil on those chubby tablet sheets with blue lines that were standard issue to my generation of school kids. I received them in February, not for Valentine’s Day, but because I had been absent from school after having had my tonsils removed. Of course, my closest friends told me they missed me but the real news in everyone’s note was that Dana had stepped on a nail and had to get a shot.
The command to send me a letter was surely Miss Allen’s way of incorporating a teaching moment. It was more than another attempt at perfecting the smooth, bold strokes of the Peterson Method of penmanship whose unattainable, flawless alphabet lined every elementary classroom as a giant black and white guidebook. No, Miss Allen was attempting to teach some social graces along with sentence structure and proper spacing. Wouldn’t she be surprised today to find that not only has cursive writing been abandoned for keyboard strokes but that any kind of a snail-mail note with personality has become an endangered species, too.
If you remember the love life of third graders in the days before computers, there used to be a lot of note passing that often included a phrase like: “I like you. Do you like me? Circle Yes or No.” Third grade boys never responded “yes” to that, girls nearly always. I know the notes I received about my dearly departed tonsils were mandatory, not an option, because I have one that reads: “I don’t love you but Miss Allen said I had to.” Now presumably that meant Miss Allen said he had to write me a note, regardless of his romantic intentions, but if she had the power to insist the hottest boy in class love me, where was she seven years later when I was really ready to date?
As a side note, I’m sure I won over a few new hearts a week later when I returned to school. I brought my tonsils to school in a jar of formaldehyde to share at show and tell. They were disgusting enough to have peaked interest from all the boys. Even Spanky, Alfalfa and other Our Gang members of the He Man Women Haters Club couldn’t have turned away.
In elementary school in those days, we each decorated a box where we could collect Valentines from all our classmates. Or only some of them. As I remember it, there was always some kind of unannounced competition among the girls to see who could attract the most cards and the race was on to see which potential marriage partner had dropped us a little card with his dreamy name scrawled across it. Sadly, parents weren’t as tuned in to the importance of inclusion as they are today and some boxes were not as abundant as others. I also remember great contemplation and third grade philosophical debate over the real intention behind the specific, generic, pre-printed greeting a boy had chosen to send us if he was on our radar.
I’m sure classroom Valentine’s Day boxes have fallen by the wayside. Even snail-mail cards to dear hearts are on the wane but in recent years, we’ve added some new February celebrations to share the day. Take a look at the national holidays calendar for this February 14th.
In addition to Valentine’s Day, we now celebrate National Ferris Wheel Day on February 14th. I guess that makes sense. It’s your chance to feel weightless, your heart in your throat and butterflies in your stomach, as you float toward the clouds to be suspended at the top of your Universe and separate from the mundane world below. A Ferris wheel ride means you must also dangle exposed and unprotected, reliant on your partner not to rock the boat or make you feel afraid. Sounds like love to me.
February 14th is also National Organ Donor Day. I mean no disrespect to all the people everywhere who need these gifts and the families who must agonize over decisions that help make sense of tragedy but that day and designation can’t be a coincidence, can it? I mean, National Organ Donor Day has only been around since 1998. Frank Sinatra told us way back in 1967 that unrequited love made him leave his heart in San Francisco. Tony Bennett, Brenda Lee and Johnny Mathis all suffered the same fate since then, based on their recordings.
Two decades after Tony won his Grammy and claimed Left My Heart as his signature song, 80’s recording artists Wham! confided they, too, had made an organ donation, although at Christmastime. Last Christmas/ I gave you my heart/ But the very next day, you gave it away./This year, to save me from tears/I’ll give it to someone special. I’m thinking that when it comes to organ donation, giving away hearts is nothing new but we do now have two events that celebrate it. (And by the way, February 14th is also International Condom Day for love bugs all across the world which I’m sure is no coincidence.)
When you look at the heart in context with what we now celebrate as an entire National Month if February, it all clicks. President Johnson declared February as American Heart Month more than 50 years ago in 1863. February has since been officially desiginated as National Creative Romance Month and National Weddings Month as well.
I’m not sure how I’ll celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, unlikely it will be on a Ferris wheel or at a Wham! revivial but I do know this. Any day is the right day to tell the people you care about that you love them so I think I’ll make some time for that. And maybe I’ll send a few handwritten notes to renew old friendships, not because Miss Allen made me but because they may find them buried in a box decades from now and be happy with the memory.