This past Saturday, I came across a box labeled “Mom & Dad’s Old Stuff.”
Inside, as I expected, were their vintage childhood things—a toy iron, child’s safe with a lithographed image of a ship, a tiny bark canoe, a homemade “Merry Christmas” sign made of wood, a miniature washboard, a homemade tatting loom my grandfather made for my Mom in the 1920s, when girls learned to make lace. There was my mother’s Campfire Girls handbook and Dad’s copy of Strongheart the Wonder Dog, a story with a snowbound motif which make sense, having grown up on an Alberta wheat farm.
And there were several Valentines. A rather fancy one was sent to my mother around fourth grade, judging from the childlike signature, “From Noel.” He apparently attended the same one-room school my mother did.
The Valentine is lovely—a seven-inch girl with Shirley Temple locks wearing a full blue skirt and “carrying” a basket of pink roses. Printed on her hem is a rhyme: “Oh! Come my dear and dance with me, my eyes are dancing too with glee. I offer you these flowers divine and want you for my Valentine.”
The girls’ eyes are cut out, maybe they once held some kind of sparkly something or other. She was made to stand up by herself as a three-dimensional souvenir.
Another survivor is a two-layered Valentine, probably made from the front of an older card with red construction paper tied to it. Peering through a circular opening is a little boy holding a bouquet of roses. There’s no clue who it’s from except for “P.S.” marked on the back.
Dad kept a clutch of Valentines from his primary school days. A boy with a lollipop is from a teacher, “Miss Johnson,” and a puppy dog strumming a banjo is from “Miss Allen.” A fancy fold-out card printed in Germany features a boy in a sailor suit with two pups on leashes. It’s from “Ethel.” Apparently Ethel was better off than some others in the class.
A girl named “Daisy” sent Dad a handmade card with a girl dangling a spider in front of a sleeping boy. She went to the trouble to paint it neatly in water colors.
Another Valentine was carefully created from lined notebook paper, with a portrait of a girl, peering through a heart-shaped wreath of hearts and flowers colored with crayons. The child signed it only “A friend.”
And then there’s a peculiar black-and-white “cat” made of construction-paper hearts of different sizes. The artist added pencil whiskers on the face. I was especially touched when I turned it over to discover “From Grandpa.”
Dad’s grandpa was then a widower and had moved to Canada to live with his daughter’s family during the meager days of the Depression. And it was at their house that he died in 1933.
Other than a handful of photographs, this little Valentine is the only tangible thing I have of him. It’s whimsical and clever. Maybe that’s how he was. I like to think so.
If my parents sent Valentines to one another, I have never found them. Rather, it’s these sentimentals saved from the tenderest years, have survived when most everything else is lost.
Of course, these vintage cards aren’t my Valentines. They don’t represent my memories, but they make me imagine where and when they came from: humble country schoolrooms with pot-bellied stoves and chalk dust, metal lunch pails lined up by the windows frosted by a bitter winter outside. A cache of brightly colored Valentines dropped into the middle of February must have been delightful.
I shared these old cards with my five-year-old granddaughter Violet who especially liked the hollow-eyed girl with the full skirt.
“Is she older than you?” she wanted to know.
Teaching a child about the age of things is never simple.
I’m sure my parents couldn’t imagine that their old Valentines would charm their great-granddaughter all these years later, no more than I can imagine what bits of my life will intrigue Violet’s grandchildren.