• 36°

Adding value to your valentine card

By DAVID WHITLOCK

Life Matters

I inherited some of my grandmother’s valentine cards. I’m guessing they date back to the early 1900s, when she was a girl. The paperwork is intricately designed, and the red and white colors have somehow managed to keep their brilliance.

But they are relics. No one wrote on them. I suppose that’s good, if you are a collector of old valentine cards. Like baseball cards from a bygone era, or an antique toy, the more pristine their condition, the more valuable they are.

But the valentine cards I value the most are the ones that have writing on them.

It doesn’t take much to make it special when it’s from the right person.

When I was in sixth grade, we decorated our own brown or white paper valentine sacks for the other kids to put cards in. I’ve never had an artistic touch, but I managed to draw a valentine with a red crayon and put my name there, too. I would peek in on it every day as Valentine’s Day approached, wondering who had dropped a card in my little paper sack. Just getting a card was a big deal to me. Diane McDaniel didn’t have to write much more than, “Happy Valentine’s Day, David,” for me to grin from ear to ear. And I would look her way dozens of times, watching to see if she would read my card, hoping to find her smiling back at me.

My wife, Lori, has mastered the art of saying just the right thing on my valentine’s card. The school teacher in her prompts her to add those little sticky figures in place of a word, like, “You are my: valentine heart sticker” Or she’ll write, “I am smitten,” with a heart-and- arrow sticky figure next to it. Her little stickie hearts make me feel like I’m a kid again on Valentine’s Day.

On one card from years ago, Lori wrote, “You are still ‘the one, and we’re still having fun,’ and you will remain in my heart forever!” The funny thing is, it’s one of those cards that has a song playing when you open it. But now, after all these years, the card only makes a sound like a broken record with a single cord. I grin at that, but her words remind me of what the card’s song was: “Still the One,” by Orleans, 1976, from our high school dating days. Though the little jingle on the card didn’t last, Lori’s words do, evoking the love associated with the card from that day.

Cards are nice, but our own words, as inadequate as they may seem in portraying our love, are better. It’s our words that count.

To prove my thesis, think about it: Do you remember the bouncy lyrics someone at the card company rhymed in such a generic manner, that whether you’ve had a fight with your valentine or just walked arm in arm off the “Love Boat,” it still fits? Probably not. What you are going to remember is the feeling you got from those few but sincere words your valentine wrote, even if they were scribbled alongside that syrupy poem in the card. I skim right past the poem to the what Lori wrote. I don’t care what someone I don’t know in a card factory penned; I want to read what my valentine said.

To further make my point, I’ll share part of a note from my dad, nine years before he died, written to my mom, on Valentine’s Day, which also happens to be Mom’s birthday. “I hid your birthday card and can’t remember where,” he wrote. “You are so special to me. I don’t do a good job of showing it, but you are. On your day, I promise I will try to slow down and listen better. I am so glad we met on the tennis court 66 years ago. Even though my body tells me it has been a while, my mind does not feel that way. You still look cute and beautiful to me. And you still have that quality of life that inspires and excites me…It has been a good life…All my love.”

Betcha my mom didn’t read that and say, “Well, I wish you could find that card you lost.” No, Dad’s words carried the meaning from his heart. Write to your valentine on your card, and even if your words are clumsy and half-baked, you’ve expressed a piece of your heart.

And that’s all that really matters.

Even if you have to watch dozens of times to see if your valentine will read it.