Growing up, it was cool having a birthday on Valentine’s Day. At least, all the girls in my grade school thought so. Something about it gave me almost celebrity status in the hallways and classroom of Inglis School in my hometown.
Without question, Valentine’s Day was my favorite holiday to celebrate in a grade school classroom. One of my most vivid and enjoyable memories was the Valentine’s boxes all the kids made—crafted from converted cigar boxes; shoe boxes, Kleenex boxes; even the tall, circular Quaker Oats boxes; one kid one year even brought in a huge, metal “Chesty Potato Chips” container with a long, narrow strip cut into the lid —decorated to the nines in mostly red and white with hearts; cute, pudgy cupids with cherub cheeks, holding bows and arrows ready to fire at those with or without grade school crushes.
At the end of class, we each opened our box to find store-bought valentines, homemade valentines, and tons of those chalky-sweet edible hearts bearing such titillating statements as “Me + You,” “Cutie Pie,” “Be Mine,” and even a heart stopping “I Love You.” We smiled a thousand smiles if our heartthrob gave us a gushy card, but died a thousand deaths if some homely classmate pledged undying love.
At the end of the day, we dined on cake and ice cream. The teacher always gave me an extra piece of cake since it was not just Valentine’s Day but my birthday as well. All the girls thought it was cool, and so did I.
One time, my senior year of high school, my three best friends—Curt, Alvin, and Ron, with whom I always ate our brought-from-home-brown-bag lunches—swiftly and silently disappeared when the bell ended study hall. I grabbed my lunch from my locker, slowly headed to the cafeteria, and found them waiting for me with a cake they had each baked one-third of, then put together and iced in the lunchroom. It was supposed to be a big heart. It loosely resembled a chemistry experiment gone terribly wrong, but it tasted better than anything the Home Economics class could have come up with.
My grandmother Heston, a professional cookie and cake baker (the best in a five county area), always baked me a beautiful heart-shaped cake for my Valentine birthday, and always gave me the first piece—making sure it was the biggest one, with thick icing and a big red heart.
The last professional gig my grandmother had was baking the wedding cake for my wife and I. Speaking of marriage, it has drastically changed the way I celebrate Valentine’s Day. For over half-a-century now, I have had to buy my wife flowers and a card, as well as a box of candy, then take her to a swanky and expensive restaurant of her choice where I wine-and-dine her at my expense … and I do it all ON MY BIRTHDAY!
I have just two words for the whole experience: NOT FAIR!