On the tenth of February when I was in fourth grade, Mama gave me a quarter to go to the dime store and buy a book of valentines to cut out, address, sign, and give to my classmates at the homeroom Valentine’s Day party. A quarter was enough to buy a respectable book with an adequate number of Valentines, but not enough for the fancy flocked and glittered ones, and that made me sad. I wanted to give very special Valentines to my crush, my best friend, and my teacher.
From the time I can remember, I had very intense crushes: James, the nineteen-year-old farm hand I admired from afar, the very definition of handsome for me; seven-year-old Bob, the little redheaded boy in the bluebird costume who thrilled me when he held my hand, leading me onstage as queen of the flowers in Mrs. Stripling’s recital for our Expression class in Nocona, Texas. When I moved away to Denver City, Bob sent me a hand-printed letter telling me that he missed me and hoped I would come back soon.
By fourth grade I was in love with a boy named Ronnie in the Wickett, Texas, Elementary School. Ronnie’s sister Shirley was my friend and playmate. Of course, Ronnie had no idea how I felt about him, and if he had known he probably wouldn’t have cared or would have run as fast as he could in the opposite direction because fourth-grade boys and fourth-grade girls see crushes differently, but I wanted to give Ronnie a big valentine with flocking and glitter, like the ones in the twenty-nine-cent books because I thought he deserved it. I also wanted to give fancy Valentines to my best friend, Billie Ann, and to my teacher, but the rules were that you had to give a card to everyone in the class if you wanted to participate in the Valentine’s Day party exchange. I had only twenty-five cents to spend, so I pored over the Valentines, looking for one that would subtly show Ronnie that he was the one I REALLY wanted to “be my Valentine,” no matter what all the other boys’ cards said. Billie Ann and I knew we were best friends, so the special Valentine was just a formality, and the teacher would know that a fancy Valentine probably meant that the kid who gave it to her was either rich or spoiled or both.
On the day of the party, our room mothers brought pink cupcakes, iced cookies, and red Kool-Aid, and we forgot about science and social studies for an hour or so while we enjoyed the treats and ceremoniously handed out the carefully cut, folded, pasted, and signed Valentines with our friends’ names on the envelopes, also folded and pasted. I read and re-read the messages for signs that each giver REALLY liked me, checking Ronnie’s especially for signs of true love.
I had carried my homemade Valentines to school in a shoe box, and I felt all happy inside as I carried the ones my friends had given me back home in that shoe box. Even though I knew that everyone gave everyone a card and that the messages were made up by someone in a Valentine Book Factory, when I read each one, I felt like the message was for me and that the sender really meant it. Even Ronnie’s. Especially Ronnie’s.