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Valentine’s Day – The Great Equalizer

Valentine’s Day has been my favorite holiday since I was 6 years old.  Not because, even as an adult, my favorite color is red, favorite shape is a heart and I believe chocolate is one of the five major food groups.  Not even because my maiden name means “heart” in Polish.  It’s because of a revelation I had in first grade.

I grew up in a rural farming area in the Upper Midwest in the 60’s and 70’s.  The town nearest to our farm (pop. 149) was mostly influenced by heritage from Poland, Russia and Germany.  My little community had 3 churches:  Roman Catholic, Polish National Catholic and Russian Orthodox.  Of course, unless there was a wedding or funeral, everyone would go exclusively to their family’s church of choice. Within the confines of an  8-10 block stretch of the main county road though town, there were also five taverns, a couple of garages, two grocery stores, a hardware store, feed mill, elementary school and a baseball field.  When the village eventually invested in street signs, the ball field in the center of town was surrounded by North Street, East Street, South Street and West Street.  To say everyone knew everyone would be an understatement.

My dear grandma had a matriarchal presence in the town.  She owned a tavern on the main road right across the street from the Catholic Church, which she cleaned weekly and went to mass at every morning.  She also wrote the local gossip column for the village that was printed in the weekly papers published in larger surrounding communities.  Grandma would house people for years (literally) and had taken it upon herself to help those in need.  Whenever she knew someone was sick, she would make a big pot of soup from one of her chickens and send me to drop off a jar to whoever was ailing. Being an amazing cook, she had customers drive for miles for her famous secret-recipe hamburgers.  She taught me that everyone was “included”, even if there appeared to be very real preferences in patronizing churches, taverns and stores.

Socially, my limited exposure in my preschool years to children other than my little brother, were the kids I would see at church or a few cousins.  Until I got into first grade, I was mostly influenced by adults who all knew each other for miles around.  The farmers would help each other with field work, everyone knew how to fix anything, and produce from everyone’s huge gardens was canned and shared.

Once I got old enough to go to school, my earlier illusion of life became quite confusing and eye-opening.  I went to a school where kids really were held back if they weren’t ready to do the work required in the next grade.  I really did read Dick, Jane and Spot stories in the reading circle of chairs in the front of the classroom and came to realize that reading wasn’t as easy for everybody.  Not everyone knew their letters or numbers or colors.  There were kids that were teased and had “cooties” and fights in the playgrounds.  I thought that people only fought with their siblings….what was this other stuff about?   The world of “inclusion” that my grandma showed me and the expectations of learning that my mom taught me was becoming shattered.  When we drew names at Christmas time, there was such nervousness that some people might draw the name of the boy that everyone else seemed to dislike.  I never understood why he had to sit by the teacher’s desk and was most shunned.  I drew his name.  I was glad.

Then came Valentine’s Day.  We had 29 kids in my first grade class and all got to decorate shoe boxes for our Valentine’s Day party.  We got the list of everyone's names and each of us was to bring a Valentine for every other member of the class and put it in each other’s boxes.  Based on the chatter that happened daily and the “worry” of whose name would be picked at Christmastime, I was concerned that not everyone would get very many Valentines in their boxes.  It was no different to me than if someone was sick and Grandma didn’t make soup for them.

Our school was fully decorated in the hallways, lunch room and classes with pink, red and white hearts and twisted crêpe paper.  The fateful day arrived and we got to put cards that took forever to sign and address into their own special boxes.  Party time would be the moment of truth.  Who would be rejected this time?  What would it be like to have one more time that those more popular or smarter or funnier would get yet more attention and have the kids already shunned feel even less included?  I was nervous.  Then we opened our boxes.  What a delight and what a relief.  Each of my classmates got the same number of Valentine cards!  My translation:  Everyone got the same amount of love, attention and inclusion as everyone else.  Valentine’s Day was the great equalizer!  If nothing else happened throughout the year to have those on the peripheral feel part of a “family”, at least I knew they would for one hour a year at the Valentine’s Day Party.

With the commercialization, media and pressure that so many put upon themselves and relationships at this holiday, sometimes it might help to go back to “simple”.   What simple and easy tradition can you do to reach out to someone special to you?   Remember when you would get your class list, pick “just the right card” for the boy or girl on the list, struggle with the lousy glue on the silly envelopes and figure out how to spell their names correctly?  That person mattered to you for those moments.  And you mattered to all the other kids in your class when they did their lists and picked “just the right card” for you, too.  Don’t dismiss or diminish the times that we all were capable to get over our judgments and decide that even for one day of a year, it’s ok to say, “Be My Valentine”.

Now it’s time to get my traditional Valentine’s Day cake baked.  Even though my kids are grown now, they still know I’ll be making my cake and crying when I think back to all the kids getting the same amount of “love” on the most inclusive holiday of the year.  What about you?  Think of who you can spend a few moments “including” in your life this day.  Pick “just the right thing” to say to them on twitter, facebook, email or your cell.  You won’t even have to mess with those silly envelopes with the lousy glue.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Be Mine…


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Reader Comments (2)

This is Beautiful!! I love it, and you!

February 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjuliwrites

WOW Cindy!
This is beautiful. You are a gifted storyteller. And teacher. And healer.
I love you!

February 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJeana Watts

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