For me February 14th is always special
Valentine’s Day makes me think of school days when we had a big old heart-festooned Valentine’s Day box in the classroom, in which assorted waifs could ‘mail’ their little messages to an adored other, but always disguising the sender of the message, or maybe including the first and last letter of the name, and connecting them with a bunch of little dashes. Difficult to discern maybe if the girl’s name was Ermingarde Clytemnestra von Dusseldorff, but if it was plain Jane Smith, it was kind of a giveaway. The more caring among teachers, recognizing the potential for cardless Charlie Browns in the class would ask each kid to send a Valentine to every other kid, just so nobody got left out. A kind thought, though it was one that sort of defeated the purpose if you wanted to send a really special card to somebody for whom you had a huge passion. And children do have huge passions, whether adults like to think so or not. I spent most of my school days being madly in love with one little girl or other. Of course, I never declared that ardor, so Valentine's Day gave me the opportunity to come out of myself. I doubt if I ever did, though. I probably gave as a closing salutation on a card to one I especially adored, "Yours Truly" What can I say? I was a kid, and there are few kid lotharios.
All of that notwithstanding, Valentine’s Day, however, has another meaning for me, and it’s one that is in some respects more than a commemoration of St. Valentine. To me it’s a commemoration of my maternal grandmother, for February 14th is her birthday. I always remember that because she was, in so many respects, the pivotal and most adored adult of my childhood.
To say I didn’t come from a happy and secure childhood home would be on a par with saying Al Capone had control issues. My parents did not have a good marriage and, while they may have provided us (my brothers and I) with such things as food and lodging, they weren’t to be noted for their affectionate natures. Maybe they loved us – probably did – but they never really expressed it. This isn’t a whine, by the way. They were who they were and I can’t do anything about it at this juncture. I’m only pleased, if I can be candid, that I didn’t grow up like them in my attitudes to other people. I think I’m a rather warm and caring person.
And that impulse within me I attribute to my grandmother. She lived only a block away when I was growing up, and on my way home from school I always dropped in on ‘Grannie’ and shared a cup of tea with her. It had to be tea, because she was more English than the Queen. She was an upper-middle class girl who married my 30-year-old grandfather when she was 18 and came to the wilds of western Canada about 1910. However, she never lost her salons of London sense of refinement.
I loved her and cherished her. She was funny, very intelligent, well-read (she more than anyone else introduced me to books and gave me a love for them), and showed the love of an elder for a child. As the story goes, within days of giving birth to me, my mother came down with a severe illness of some sort. She was staying at Grannie’s house because my dad was away in the navy. Anyway, this left Grannie to care for me in my earliest days. So, she and I bonded. We imprinted. And she subsequently became more of a mother to me than my own.
Then, when I was 14, she was hit and killed by a car when crossing the street. She was only in her late 60s. Her death was utterly unexpected, so no emotional preparation had been put into place. My brothers and I were devastated. We were devastated for years afterward. Oddly – or maybe not so oddly – my parents never asked how we were dealing with this untimely death.
OK, this is getting dreary. Unintentionally dreary. Grannie wouldn’t have liked it, and would have admonished me to: “Stop writing nonsense!” OK.
So, Happy Valentine’s Day to you all, and an especially Happy Birthday to Grannie.