I could write a book about Valentine’s Day, 1959. We were pretty much experts on the subject by the sixth grade. Good gosh, we’d been passing out those little cards every year since being drafted into elementary school. We didn’t hardly read them, you just bought a “twenty-five pack” for a quarter at the Ben Franklin Store and placed one on every desk in the room.
The cards came in different shapes and sizes, and various shades of red and white, but they all followed a similar theme, “Be Mine,” “Love You,” “You Belong to Me,” “Always,” “You are my Valentine”! The teachers forced you to take part in the occasion. We figured, “no harm, no foul.”
Besides, this was grammar school for goodness sakes. The boys didn’t rate girls on looks, dress or hairstyle. OR who ought to be someone’s Valentine! We wanted to know how fast they could run and how tough they were. That was important when you were choosing up sides to play “Red Rover, Red Rover, let Vicki come over.”
And we also wanted to know what they brought for lunch. I got tired of cornbread and turnip green sandwiches every single day. I could sometimes trade Ruth Ann out of her ham and cheese. Or if I got really lucky, Suzie wouldn’t eat all of her peanut butter and banana sandwich.
Our “girl-friends” eating habits back then trumped a pretty smile and an acne free face.
And don’t scream feminism, sexism, communism or any other ism at us. We were twelve years old! We didn’t have an agenda; we weren’t denigrating, belittling or mocking….. We were trying with all our little hearts to “fit in” and not embarrass ourselves or the family as we worked desperately to figure out this thing called life.
Listen, you want to talk social, economic or political injustice, you should have seen how Patricia or Emily would beat the everlasting stuffings out of any boy they could chase down during recess!
1959 was the year I got asked to go to a Valentine dance. By a girl! Charlotte was as nice as anyone I knew. I’d go out to the Melton place and ride horses with her. We’d always end up in the little riding area just down from the house. She’d practice her barrel racing as I timed her. It was July….hot, dry and dusty. She’d thunder up on Pesky and ask, “How’d I do?”
Sweat would be dripping off her chin. Her white cowgirl hat was a semi-chocolate color. Dirt rings deep enough to start a corn field piled in layers around her neck. Those black cat eye glasses would be so steamed up I couldn’t see her eyes…..
I’d seen her hair rolled up on concentrated orange juice cans.
And that’s not the worst, I remember the day back in the fourth grade when she threw up all over the Red Bird reading class. Kids were jumping out of the way, chairs were toppling over, Bob Edwards dove out the window. She puked for twenty-eight minutes! It was mostly orange looking chunks. Charlotte would sometimes bring a sweet potato for lunch.
Ye, gads! There wasn’t NO WAY! The “in living color” memories were just too vivid! I would rather die a thousand deaths than show up at a public dance with this girl!
I didn’t go. AND I didn’t mince any words as to my distaste for all things Valentine and this “thing with Charlotte” in particular.
Well, shucks, you know how this story ends. Those “words” went down rougher than any turnip green sandwich a mere two years later when I had to eat them…..over and over. It’s unbelievable the amount of growing a young fellow does between twelve and fourteen!
And life is not so much about past uncomfortable encounters maybe…..as it is about the here and now.
Charlotte got better looking each passing day of those two years and I got more tongue tied. Boys popped out of the woodwork to practice barrel racing with her. Or buy her chocolate malts up at the drugstore. Or walk her home after basketball games…..
I was stuck with a lifetime of what might have been. A broken fourteen year old heart. A way different attitude about this whole Valentine celebration thing. And I learned irrevocably that, in the right light, on the right face, a pair of cat eye glasses gives off a romantic glow……