PART TWO, KINDA
Carla Avril photo
Wasn’t that an innocent, sweet time of our lives---before we reached even the lacy-card stage, unless we got into our Mamas’ treasured stashes of paper doilies, saved for Bridge Club sandwich trays and for displaying neat rows of Individual Iced Cakes for visits from the Exalted Grand Matron? Those small flappy bits of three-colour primary frippery we passed around amongst ourselves were an annual treat; the buying and the making and the careful lettering and the giving were all small parts of a rite as old and as little understood as Love. And our own childish bits of the ritual were taken as seriously as the two-handed meek offerings of any time-worn creed.
We saved, we shopped, we clipped and glued---those knobby glass bottles with the crusty rubber tops slid across edges and doilies and tabs, and the still-drying gobs and telltale smears of mucilage were a lovable part of the whole. Errant bits of paper, ribbon, lace caught up in the sticky mess have come down the years as dear additions to those eagerly-proffered, gladly-accepted creations from-and-of-the-heart.
We didn’t understand it yet---just our own little corner of the “Like” and “Looking at” world of the primary grades reflected in those three primary colours of the shoddy small Valentines we could afford. But we were IN IT---Oh, Yes.
We coveted those small slips of esteem as we did an Add-a-Pearl or an A on a report card---they MATTERED in some uncountable way. They were the votes in a gaudy ballot-box of approval, though it was unheard of to leave off anyone from your list.
We kept those Valentines from year to year in little boxes or scrapbooks like medals or show-ribbons, as tokens of friendship and regard. The fact that everybody got one from everybody else was not important---the GETTING was the thing.
I’d carefully laid each little paper inside the pages of my Arithmetic book---the wider of my two textbooks, for safekeeping in my book satchel. All the way home, we’d pause and take out a few for more admiration. When I arrived home, Mother was out at her Missionary Society Meeting, and so I excitedly took them over to show to Mrs. P, who was sitting out on her porch.
We walked out into the sunshine for better effect, and I laid them out, one by one, on the fenders and hood of Mr. Shug’s Jeep as we admired them again. Then I stacked them carefully, and laid them just inside the open back of the Jeep to pick up as I passed going home.
I went on and on, following the bayou, and could see several floating on the green water like lily pads. I didn't dare step out into the swamp to retrieve them, and so they were lost to me as if they'd sunk.
The next day when I came home from school, there was a brand-fresh unopened pack, just like the one I’d so carefully lettered and “sent” awaiting me, from Mr. Shug, who felt really bad about scattering my Valentines “from here to Sunday,” my Mother said. A little balm for the loss, and every year at this time, I think of that sweet man, sputtering heedless down that bumpy road, trailing a little contrail of colourful cards like Love Propaganda---scattering my childish dreams into the wind.