Be My Valentine

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By Hardy Jackson

Many folks, middle-aged men mostly, do not look forward to Valentine’s Day.
Not just because they are expected to send the woman they love flowers and candy and such stuff – they can handle that – but because they fear that the object of their affection might consider the gift insufficiently romantic and judge them thusly.
Being judged thusly can have all sorts of consequences.
That happened to a guy I knew who briefly lived under the mistaken assumption that the true measure of love was presenting your dear one with a gift that you would buy for yourself –give unto others as you would have them give unto you, or something like that.
He loved to fish.
See where this is heading.
What better way to say I love you than a new rod and reel?
The relationship was over before the year was out.
That’ll learn him.
Personally, I do not look forward to Valentine Day’s because it brings back memories of when I was in elementary school. Of all the events on our calendar, none created more consternation and concern, anxiety and angst among boys and girls of that age than the ceremony of acceptance and rejection that occurred every February 14.
Teachers seemed to love Valentine’s Day because preparation for it kept us busy. They knew that the idle hands of pre-adolescents were surely the Devil’s workshop, so they put us to work. One of the first lessons taught to aspiring teachers at colleges where teachers are taught is “keep ‘em busy.”
So busy we were kept.
Valentine’s Day preparations started innocently enough. No sooner was Groundhog Day past than our teacher would bring out the scissors, colored paper and paste, from which the artistic among us (usually the girls) would create hearts and flowers. Cupids were too complex for our meager talents, but the guys had lots of fun drawing bows and arrows.
All this creativity notwithstanding, as Valentine’s Day approached, we nervously waited to see who would give what to whom, for in that exchange were all our hopes, dreams, and fears.
Freud, or one of those dirty minded psychologists, contended that there is a “latent period” in young lives when they are not interested in the opposite sex.
Freud never attended my elementary school, where it seems, looking back, that most of my classmates skipped any “latent period” that might have been lurking in the corners of our young lives.
Boys wanted girlfriends and girls wanted boyfriends. Everybody wanted to be accepted.
Problem was, the number of what might today be called “trophy” selections was limited, so a lot of the girls “liked” the same “cute” boys and most of the boys “liked” the same “cute” girls.
Thus it followed that the exchange of valentines on Valentine’s Day would force a public declaration of affection, followed by reciprocation or rejection.
As the day approached, you could cut the tension with a knife.
Symbolism was everywhere.
What if you gave “cute girl” your handmade valentine and Bubba trumped you with a store bought better one? What if Johnny upped the ante with a Milky Way taped to his card?
Then there was the gnawing fear that Claude would give his token of love to the “cute girl” you “liked,” and she would give him one in return – leaving you with an extra valentine and a broken heart.
Or maybe, horror of horrors, like Charlie Brown you might get no valentines at all.
Teachers attempted to remedy that situation by instructing us to give valentines to everyone. Most of us responded by passing out to classmates those massed produced cards bought in bulk from the drug store.
Then, we gave a “special” Valentine to the “cute girl” or the “cute boy” that we wanted to sit with us in the lunchroom.
Thus, by the end of the day, we all knew who “liked” whom, who was “popular,” and whose love was and would remain unrequited.
Think of the scars left on our adolescent psyches.
Oh, we got over it, mostly.
But every Feb. 14, it comes back to haunt some of us.
Now, should I go with flowers or candy or something from Bass Pro Shop?
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University.
He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.

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