Through a Glass Darkly: Valentine’s risks are elementary

In elementary school everybody brought a shoebox to class for Valentine’s Day.

Most of the boxes were decorated in some fashion, and we marked all of them with our names.

Each box had a slit in the top so that other students could slide in valentines.

Looking back at my days at Labadieville Elementary School, I realize my class was a close-knit group.

Fewer than 30 of us started first-grade together. We marched up the hall, year by year, from one grade to the next. Almost 60 years after that progression began, I think I can still name the kids with whom I made that march.

We lost a few who got held back in the old room or moved to some other town.

Likewise, we occasionally picked up a straggler from an older class or gained someone who moved in from another school.

By the time we reached eighth-grade, more than 20 of us were still together.

We existed in a tiny universe and may not have shown affection for each other often, but Valentine’s Day was an exception.

Each year my mother bought a bag of valentines, and I would sort through them.

They were simple cards with colorful drawings and a few words on one side and room to write a note or just sign your name on the back.

The sorting involved picking out images and words to go with how you felt about your classmates or to give them something you thought they would like.

The boys got the cards picturing sports or something adventurous.

Ones picturing a pirate lancing a sword through a heart while holding a flint-lock pistol might not be socially acceptable today.

The girls generally got the cards showing puppies or kittens, but valentines for girls could be problematic.

In elementary school, boys declared that they didn’t like girls, but in truth there always were exceptions.

The girls who embodied those exceptions got the valentines that showed the prettiest girls on them.

Some years there was a special girl — a Becky Thatcher — and the question was whether to just give her the best valentine from the bag or to buy one especially for her.

Buying her one was a risk.

It would stand out among the others, and she would examine the words.

When she opened her shoebox and went through the stack would she look up at you from a row away and smile?

Would she show it to her friends, giggle and whisper words you wished you could hear?

Would she just treat it like all the others as she went through her stack, making you wonder why you had spent your nickels?

Valentine’s Day in elementary school provided a tenuous step onto the ice over the River of the Heart.

With a look, the girl whose face you watched could whisk you over the waters or plunge you into cold depths on a February day.

Contact Bob Anderson by email at banderson@the
advocate.com.