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February 10, 2018

Growing up in Louisa – Be My Valentine!   

Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

I recently sat down with my darling wife Suzie to watch another Hallmark movie. This activity is rather normal for us since we try to watch something together each evening. It helps us wind down from the distractions of the day and helps us to relax a little before bedtime. The film we watched on this particular evening was a love story that starred none other but our old friend Cupid, that mythical, iconic arrow-shooting cherub whose duty it is to bestow love on unguarded and unexpecting humans. Around this time of year, he is known to let his arrows fly! Whether the victims are random, or the targets are selected is unclear, but lives are changed once the ‘love bug’ strikes. Based upon the calendar it is altogether appropriate that we tuned in on this presentation. I fear that magical time called Valentine’s Day is upon us.

By-the-way, the husbands out there should try to memorize the date, February 14. It is known to arrive before we can make reasonable preparations to keep our most precious relationships at an even keel. We know from experience that forgetting that day is an unforgiveable sin, almost equal to forgetting your wedding anniversary. Ignoring the special celebrations and gift-giving, can be troublesome at best, or in a worst case, a tragedy for the whole family. Count this as a friendly reminder to take quick action to pick up a card, some flowers, candy, or jewelry on the way home. There, now I have done my duty.

I remember that when I was growing up in Louisa, grade school students were put to work annually making colorful paper Valentines for their moms and fellow classmates. Non-threating scissors that were part of a school-supply kit clattered while the room full of youngsters clipped away creating heart-shapes of paper that would be glued onto another to construct wonderful works of art. While this happened before the practice of sticking them to refrigerator doors, our moms nonetheless found prominent places to display her sweet muffin’s work.

 I expect that today the kids would be more comfortable using Twitter, email, texting, or some other electronic means to ask that special someone ‘to be their Valentine.’ In the old days, we were directed to drop our envelopes into a decorated cardboard box that our teacher had especially prepared for the occasion. This homemade ‘mail-box’ had nothing to do with the US Postal Service, which was a good thing because otherwise it would cost us a cool three-cents each. As for me, I didn’t have that kind of money.

The resultant collection of personally addressed envelopes was saved until that special day. The classroom was full of crepe paper decorations and some of the parents brought in heart-shaped cookies. We had ‘Kool-Aid,’ peanuts, and iced cupcakes while we listened to the teacher read a love story. Finally, the box was opened by the teacher, or a selected helper so the handmade cards could be handed out. Because we were required to make a card for every class member, each of us ended up with a stack of cards to take home. Some kept those artful masterpieces for years after they were taken home and shown to our mommies. The cards may yet exist in scrapbooks (old technology) stowed away in the attics and barns of America. The policy of making a Valentine for everyone addressed the problem of some popular kids getting a slew of cards, while others of us may not have gotten any. I cannot help but think of the trauma and heartbreak that was avoided by the teacher’s wise requirement that neutralized what would have happened otherwise. It was like a cartoon of good ole’ Charley Brown, but then, he was to come along much later. These teachers were ahead of their times.   

At the beginning of February the stores downtown displayed red and white decorations in their windows. They were promoting the season and suggesting that we buy gifts of candy, jewelry, flowers, and for some reason, fancy sleep-wear, for that special Valentine of our choosing. I’m sure I got my share of the candy, but that was because mom didn’t eat hers, or was somehow distracted. I remember the delicious chocolate truffles that were filled with sweet creams and syrups, and maybe a nut or a cherry. I quickly adapted to having unguarded candy around.

I think the point was that this special day was to draw our attention to demonstrating our ‘love’ and devotion through giving. In considering an appropriate gift for mom, I could see that jewelry was sparkly and shiny, but I saw little value otherwise. I guessed it was a ‘girl thing’ because I just didn’t get it, so I didn’t get mom any.

Neither was I into the fancy sleep-wear, since wool long-johns had so long served to keep us warm at night. Heavy wool pajamas were nice to have during February’s cold evenings, but some of those were overkill. Take, for example, those ‘onesies’ that came complete with feet. They were cute, to be sure, but a little hard to get off and on. I mean, long-johns have a trap door for going ‘potty’ during the night, but those zipped-up one-piece suits were an invitation for an accident. Besides, having to disrobe to the point of exposing the whole body to the cold air didn’t make sense to me. For what it’s worth, the fancy things stores were pushing wouldn’t have kept anyone warm! They were pretty, I guess, but these lacy things seemed to come only in pink, red, or black. Granted, these were the colors of Valentine’s Day, so I guess they made sense. Anyone who liked blue or green was out of luck.

I was new in high school when I witnessed some of the upper-classmen falling head-over-heels in love with girls. While I saw little of the mushy stuff, I couldn’t help but notice that the guys mostly moped around like a wet dishrag. For sure, several of the girls were cute, or even pretty, but to want to hang around them all day was a new idea to me. When their special valentine came around the boys seemed to suddenly lose their strength. Clearly they were inclined to weakly condescend to every wish or suggestion from the girl. It made me think that ‘giving in’ to love placed the girls in charge. Why, that wasn’t democratic and was very close to treason. I vowed to avoid that as long as possible.

The successful girls paraded their ‘boyfriend’ with locked arms to let others see they had won one of us over. They displayed pride in having captured themselves what was a virtual ‘man-servant.’ Humph, I thought. Over time I found that I couldn’t discount the fact that a proper high-school romance was enough to melt any heart. All around the campus I saw sets of love-birds walking hand-in-hand with watery stars in their eyes. I just wrote them off as a loss to the enemy. There would be no ‘choose-up’ games for them. Why, they wouldn’t even be interested in trading comic books. They were in love!

Many of these new liaisons seemed natural and almost predictable, but others were complete surprises. I remember looking at one of these couples and wondering what the girl saw in him. Maybe it was a bit of jealously on my part, but frankly, some matches just didn’t seem right. A few of the sweetest, best looking girls seemed to be attracted to boys from the ‘dark-side.’ They’d date the guy that came off as tough and rebellious instead of a kind, thoughtful, handsome gentleman. That left me in a big void, because I wasn’t rebellious, or handsome either. I watched some couples magnetically draw together on field trips, or camps, or at ballgames. It was my belief that neither could be blamed because mother-nature, herself, had thrown them together. Who could resist when Cupid had fired his arrow?

When I was first in high school, I noticed that romances were common with the upperclassmen. These relationships became a kind of a ‘model’ that trickled down so even us younger kids felt its effect. It turned out to be a learning process for all of us on how to deal with the opposite sex. Some efforts were wasted because of our lack of skills. I was so naïve that I didn’t know when someone was flirting. I just figured they were being nice. Also, because of our inexperience, or a possible misunderstanding, or maybe even a new love appearing on the scene, very few relationships lasted through the school year, or even a month. Sometimes it seemed as if couples were more about learning how to ‘break up’ rather than how to get along.

Falling in love in the spring, when love was in the air was to be expected, but it was tough when summer break came along and opportunities for couples to see each other were fewer. While town couples didn’t have a problem, those from opposite ends of the county faced serious issues. Yes, there was telephones and weekends, but sometimes even those were limited with party-lines and chores. Of course, there were relationships that would last a life-time. Those was worth envy, but were an exception. Couples in long-term relationships weren’t really seen as part of the ‘dating crowd.’ Yes, they dated each other, but they were off-limits to others. Everyone knew these partnerships were well-founded and were the model of ‘true love.’

Some popular kids, seemed to be in a contest to see how many partners they might experience within a given time allotment. Often, these were ‘fiery’ and contentious relationships that ended with fights that brought a disturbance across the student-body. I must admit that some were ‘funny’ to watch. As in all things some went too far. A few ‘shot-gun’ weddings happened, but polite society gave them a break and conversation remained quiet. Maybe Cupid had shot too strong an arrow?   

I think it was Doris Day that sang the song that had the lyrics “Everybody, loves a lover…” As a rule, that rang very true then and it remains so today. Whether in high school, or in college, dating someone was an unspoken goal, or dream. Dating took the couple out of one sub-group of peers (eligible) into a different one (taken.) There were a few ‘vamps’ that dismissed current connections and flirted away with whomever was in their sights. Maybe it was the ‘hormones that drove that jeep.’ Undoubtedly, hormones are one of the driving forces of nature. I like to think that romance is a gift from our Creator, but like all gifts, it can be misused, or abused.

Falling in love for many people is a mystery, indeed. One of my now adult sons used to puzzle about things he never saw coming. He’s say, “What happened?” I remember several times when I overheard a question by someone ‘Does he really love me?’ I also remember picking the pedals from a daisy to get the answer. “He loves me, he loves me not…”

Studies have shown that people who are married live longer and have happier lives. Maybe it’s the old ‘two heads are better than one,’ sharing the stresses of life, or maybe it’s simply good to have intellectual and physical companionship. As those needs are satisfied the couple should grow closer over time until they figuratively become one. I know my wife and I finish each other’s sentences and anticipate the other’s needs. We laugh at the times when I ask for another cup of coffee and look up to see her already standing there holding a steamy mug. That isn’t at all the kind of ‘high-school’ love I’ve tried to describe up to this point. It is something far better, but it takes a willingness and effort to obtain it. There is a lot to be said to having a partner with whom we can share both the good and the bad. Giving support, being understanding of the other, and enjoying life’s victories is the key. It all started with the romance instigated by human nature, or maybe with a simple Valentine, or maybe there’s a real Cupid.   

For most of us school is a place of learning. It isn’t just the three R’s we take in, but we learn about each other and how to get along. We learn about physical attraction and we sometimes grow in intellectual understanding. Maybe it starts with putting together valintine cover copyvalintine cover copysome valentines, then grows with a dance, a movie, or a chance meeting. It matures as we learn and appreciate others, and finally it becomes ‘true love’ as bonding happens and we grow to deeply care about the other. It is important to be there for someone, and likewise, to have someone there for you. It’s only then that the legacy you created through love, adds to bless you and future generations. Helping your sweetheart through life and having that favor returned is sweet, indeed, not to mention, fulfilling.   

All this said, I’m not past the place of buying chocolates, or jewelry, or fancy sleepwear, if it will warm my Valentine’s heart. There’s always a place for my love and that companionship that defines what is truly important in life. Now, dear reader, let me wish you a ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’ and a life full of blessings and love.

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Comments  

+1 #1 Bernard 2018-02-10 17:49
Another good one Mike, yes we have to remember Valentines day, just like a birthday to keep our one & only smiling & happy. Doesn't thavde to be costly or a big splash, just a simple card, a piece of candy & a note reaffirming our love for them. Works every time. Thanks for the memories good friend, til next time, God Bless.
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