Vestiges of first-grade shyness still cling to me when Valentine’s Day nears.
As my class colored purple-lined mimeographed hearts, our teacher explained we’d soon celebrate a love holiday.
“Ooooooh.” The boys made kissing noises.
Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween — none of these turned my face red as my Crayola. I’d even heard yucky rumors people kissed at midnight on New Year’s Eve. But my parents always sent me to bed early, so I didn’t have to witness it.
Now in school, I celebrated mushy Valentine’s Day. Despite reservations, I enjoyed decorating a white doughnut bag with pink hearts — though I had no idea why. Then our teacher explained we, like mail carriers, would deliver valentine cards to our classmates’ bags to make them feel special.
Though I didn’t consider Scary Larry Williams and Donny the Dirt Adams special, I could live with that. On Columbus Day, we only sang songs about a dead sailor who got lost. On Valentine’s Day, I ate the red-hot cinnamon hearts off a pink-frosted cupcake, then washed it down with cherry Kool-Aid.
I labored over my class list, reserving ballerina valentines for my girlfriends. For boys, a lower species, I selected animals. Ugly ones.
I suffered my first case of writer’s cramp printing names on the cards. This love stuff was hard work!
But I received pink ballerinas and multiple Snow Whites in return. I even enjoyed those sent by subhuman boys.
I applied phonics to the faint print on candy hearts, only to discover such steamy sentiments as “my baby,” “be mine,” and the dreaded “kiss me.” More disconcerting: we each received fat red wax lips. The first-grade class looked as if we’d made a field trip to a plastic surgeon’s. More kissing noises.
But Mrs. Cade didn’t stand the boys in the corner. Instead, she abdicated her moral responsibility as a teacher and donned lips herself!
Later, I asked my mother to solve the mysteries surrounding the heart candies. Was “my baby” supposed to be a compliment? All my baby brother did was pee, poop and puke. Mom said a young man might call his girlfriend “baby.” That explained the incomprehensible songs on the radio.
Valentine’s Day appeared the strangest holiday of the year, and the love/romance scenario remains puzzling as ever. But it’s nice to know I’ve moved past the first-grade version. Forget the candy hearts; now I’m into Belgian chocolates.
I also understand real love means even harder work than addressing valentines.
And that kissing noises aren’t so bad, after all.
How do you remember your first Valentine’s Day experience?