Terrorless Valentine


 SOPHIA - 13


 Synopsis:   When G-Ma was a child, children favored their friends with Valentine Cards, and didn't give ones to those they didn't like or wanted to hurt.  She remembers the pain of not getting Valentine Cards, and the pain of someone throwing a rock at her because no one liked him and he feared not receiving any valentines.   She teaches the grandkids a lesson about Valentine's Day--a time to be friends with everyone--even those you think you don't like.   She also reminds them to remember the children who lost loved ones in the Terrorist attack.


G-Ma Lori

                     G-Ma, what’s that sign say.  It’s about Valentine’s Day ‘FeRRRUary 14’ I can read that part.” 

      My five-year-old grandson, Matthew, voraciously attacked his newest challenge--to read every sign and symbol we encounter on the way home from Kindergarten.  He stopped in front of one at the M-14 bus stop signs.

      “A sign doesn’t talk, Matt. It can’t say anything.”  I knew my correction would only slightly irritate Matt, not deter him from seeking his answer.

      “G-Ma, okay, I know THAT.  But, read to me about the children and Valentine’s Day.”

      Matt deciphered a good portion of the sign. “Wow, great job on the reading, Matt. Well, you two,” (I wanted to include Sarah, Matt’s three-year-old sister who was walking with us), the sign urges people to donate money and support children who lost their parents or other loved ones in the September 11 terrorist attack on our city. The fund is called the ‘For Their Children Fund’. It says we are encouraged to remember the thousands of children affected by the crashing down of the Twin Towers.”  I paused to see if Matt was keeping up. His eyes were glued to the sign, as were Sarah’s.  “Valentine’s Day is a day on which to specially remember our loved ones.  This sign reminds us to let these children know they are not forgotten.” 

      “G-Ma, I know, I know.  Let’s take some of our Valentine’s cookies to the kids” volunteered sweet Sarah.  “We can take them to their apartments and help them have a happy Valentine’s Day.”  She smiled up at me, her chocolate eyes sparkling.

      “Little one, maybe we could do that.  I’m not sure.”  I didn’t want to squelch her generous offer and kind heart. And, I didn’t want to promise something we couldn’t deliver.

      “I think we ate most of the cookies already, G-Ma.  G-Pa said they were too good.”  Matt licked his lips as took his sister’s hand in his. “Remember Sarah, you ate most of  your cookies before they were put in the oven.”

      Their grandpa and I had a great time making cookies last night.  It was G-Pa’s delightful ‘chore’ to help Matt and Sarah frost and decorate the heart shaped creations made from G-Ma's secret recipe. Afterwards, we all enjoyed eating more than our share.

 Several were later consumed by their parents who had consented we grandparents could enjoy this sticky and fun experience.   Scholars that they are, they were attending a class while we took advantage of family babysitting, one of our favorite ways to enjoy the children.

        “I have my dollar the tooth fairy left me last month to give them.” Matt nodded his head knowing he could participate in the worthy cause.  He flashed his toothless grin at me.

      Matt’s inquisitive nature was like an arrow whizzing through the air. He shot a question my way from his overflowing quiver. “ Hey, G-Ma, who made the first Valentine and who did it get sent to?”
      I was ready.  I had done my homework and read up on Valentine’s Day.  I was going to give them a special “G-Ma school lesson” on it at home, but now was as good a time as any.

      “Well, Matt, there are several stories about Saint Valentine.  He’s the person who created the first Valentine card.  You can just pick the one you like the best.  Why don’t we sit on a bench at Tompkins Square Park and I’ll tell you what I remember about Saint Valentine and the stories relating to him.  I know two for sure, one about the first valentine I know of that was sent and the second is a  story of when I was a little girl and lost my Valentines.”

      “Yes, G-Ma, tell about when you were a little girl.” Sarah hopped up on a park bench and patted the spot next to her for me to sit.

       “Sarahhh!!” Screamed Matt.  “I asked first. G-Ma has to answer my questions first.” Matt’s frown accompanied by his loud yell scattered most of the squirrels that had gathered nearby hoping for a handout.  I forgot the peanuts.  I always remind myself that if we go to the park, I’m going to take some peanuts.  I always forget.

      “Calm down, Matt. Sit up here with Sarah and me and I’ll try to answer most of your questions.”

      I positioned myself in between my two little loves and thought how lucky I am to be the center part of a love sandwich especially with Valentine’s Day approaching.  I took a few moments to collect my thoughts and began.

      “I learned from my teachers Valentine was a priest who lived over 2,000 years ago in Rome.  The Emperor Claudius--that’s like a king—ruled.  At the time, single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families and so he outlawed marriage for young men.”

      “Oh, so there would be more soldiers, right, G-Ma?” inserted my wise little man.

      “Right, Matt.  Valentine, however, disobeyed the Emperor and married couples who were in love.  Claudius was so angry at Valentine when he found out, he ordered Valentine put to death.  Or, Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape from the mean Roman prisons.  No one knows for sure what happened to him.”

      “But, G-Ma, how did Valentine’s cards get started.  Did Valentine send them?” Matt wanted his questions answered and wasn’t impressed with elaborate storytelling.

       I quickly swung back into the story mode. “One story about Valentine is that he actually sent the first ‘valentine’ greeting himself. Remember the Emperor was mad at Valentine and put him in prison. While there, Valentine fell in love with the jailor’s daughter who had visited him.  Before his death, he wrote her a letter of his love and signed it

‘From your Valentine,’ and that is what we write today on our cards.”  I didn't think it necessary to explain that priests in past centuries might not have taken the vow of chastity.   I looked up. A squirrel was sitting on its haunches, eyes darting about, looking for the peanuts I didn’t bring.

      “What are more stories, G-Ma?” Sweet Sarah cuddled closer and hummed to herself--a habit endearing her to her Daddy Joe who is also musically inclined. 

      The squirrel appeared to calm down and to be in a listening mode just like my little 'pets', and so I continued.  “In the ancient city of Rome, February was the official beginning of Spring.  It was considered a time for cleaning.  Houses were swept out and salt and a type of wheat called spelt was sprinkled in them. 

 A big party festival began on the February 15 dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture (growing crops).  It was called Lupercalia because member of the Luperci--an order of Roman priests--would gather at the sacred cave where the infants

Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she wolf or lupa.

      “Wow, G-Ma, your favorite animal is the wolf.  I’ll bet you like this story.”

      “I do love wolves, Matt.  And this story is certainly a ‘wild one’ isn’t it.  I’ll continue as best as I can remember it.”
      “Okay,” Matt endorsed.  “Yes, G-Ma, go on,” Sarah chimed.

        I went on. “ Then a goat was sacrificed for fertility. Its hide was sliced into strips that were gently slapped on women because it was believed the strips would make them more fertile.”  I paused, “fertile means so they could have more babies.”  The kids nodded and squeezed my arm, a signal to not interject my commentary but go to the heart of the story.   “Then the young women placed their names in a big urn--like a vase--and the young men chose a name out of it and become paired for the year with the women.  Oftentimes, they would marry.”
     “How long ago was it, G-Ma?  Was it before G-Pa was born?”  Matt grinned mischievously.
      “It was a long long time ago, Matt.  A Pope…”
     “I know what a Pope is…G-Ma…he’s like the principal of the school.  The priests work for him.”
       I smiled at Matt.  “That’s close enough,” I replied.   I had just read about it so I gave them both a quick history lesson.

       “Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day around 498 A.D. That’s more than 1700 years ago.  Way older than G-Pa!” 
        Sarah squeezed my arm.  “And G-Pa’s really old, isn’t he, G-Ma?”
        I laughed rather than answered.   “The Roman ‘lottery’ system for romantic pairing was deemed un-Christian and outlawed.  I also remember learning that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season in France and England which added to the idea that the middle of February should be a day for romance.  In England by the middle of the eighteenth century, it was common for friends and lovers in all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. 

 Printed cards replaced written letters because there were better printers.  Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one’s feelings was discouraged.  Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine’s Day greetings.  Americans probably began exchanging hand-made Valentines in the early 1700s--that’s over 300 years ago.”
      “Way, way older than G-Pa, huh, G-Ma?”   Matt gave me his sly look. 
      “Yes, way older.”  I kept on my history lesson.  “An estimated one billion Valentine cards are sent each year making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. What do you think is the first?”

      I had talked so long, I wanted to check if my little listeners’ ears were still working.

      “Oh, Christmas, G-Ma.  Everybody knows that.”  Matt was slouching down on the bench.  The squirrel sat a few feet from me, nose sniffing.  Matt paid no attention.  He had been right again.  

      “G-Ma, that’s enough about the cards, and the wolves.  I want to hear now about when you were a little girl on Valentine’s Day.” Sarah had patiently waited for her turn. She sat up straighter on the bench, anticipating what she considered would be a much more interesting story than the previous lengthy one.

      “Brrr…little ones, I’ll try to hurry. It’s getting colder sitting here.”

      “Oh, G-Ma, we’ll keep you warm,” championed my little man, Matt.  He snuggled closer.

      “Well, I remember I was a little older than Matt and…”

      “Six, you were six, G-Ma” Sarah interjected.

      “Yes, Six.  And I had a bag with seven Valentines in it to take to my school for our class Valentine party.

      “Seven – only seven, G-Ma? Why only seven?” Matt wrinkled his brow and squinted his disbelieving blue eyes tight.

      “Remember, Kids, your G-Ma grew up in a very small Montana town with only 1500 people living there.  So, there were only eight students in my class, myself included.  You live in a city with eight million people, so your school classes are much larger.”

      “Oh, yes, G-Ma, now I remember. East Helena.

 So what happened next,” asked Matt.  He shivered  as the evening chill blew across the park. More squirrels boldly appeared and were chattering close by, alert for a possible handout.  I hugged the kids and hurried my story along.

      “There was a mean boy in my school – not in my class.  He was bigger and tougher than most of the kids in the school.”

      “What was his name, G-Ma?  Was it Chris like the boy at my school who always pushes me.”  Sarah pulled my arms more tightly around her, partly for warmth and partly for comfort at hearing about a possible problem for her G-Ma.

      “Johnny, Johnny Gorsich,” I replied.  As I did, I went back in time.  I  pictured Johnny’s mean grey icy eyes glaring at me.  I felt like I was only six years old, afraid, awaiting a terrible fate as I related the story to my dear ones.  “Johnny didn’t have a happy family and so he wasn’t happy himself.”

      “Not like our family, right G-Ma.  Our family has lots of love and is happy.”  Matt wisely nodded his blonde head.

      I thought how blessed Matt and Sarah are to live in a family of love.  I was grateful to be a part of the love and thought how hard it must have been for Johnny Gorsich and other children like him—especially those who lost loved ones on Nine Eleven.

      “To make a long story, short, kids, I was on my way to school with my Valentines for the class.  I had them in a bag.   On the way,  Johnny threw a rock at me.  It struck me on the head and I let go of my bag of Valentines.

 It fell into the creek and the water swept it under the snow and ice.”

      “Oh, G-Ma, how sad.  What happened next.  Did you cry?”  Sarah’s chocolate eyes teared up. Her humming was stilled.

      “I ran home, crying the whole way.  My mommy heard me slam the front door.  She hurried to hug and comfort me.”

      “Your mommy is GaGa, right, G-Ma?   Were you bleeding? Did you need a big Band-Aid?

       Were you still crying?” Both Matt and Sarah Voiced their concerns.

      “All of the above, little ones.  GaGa had to drive me uptown to the Dr.’s office to get stitches.  She said she had to take time to cool down and not be too mad at what Johnny had done, so it was a good thing that the doctor’s office was in the next town.  I don’t remember the stitches hurting me, but I do remember we stopped to get a Frosty Freeze on the way home, and I stayed home for the nest of the day."

      “Why did that Johnny do that, G-Ma. Was he mean ‘cuz he wouldn’t get any Valentines from the kids in his class?”

      “How did you get to be so smart, Matt?  That is one of the reasons Johnny was mean to me that day. He knew there wasn’t a Valentine in my bag for him.  It used to be that you gave Valentines to only those you liked and who liked you.  Back then, we thought  it was okay to not give them to some of your classmates even though it could make them sad.  That wasn’t right.   Today, teachers encourage kids to give Valentines to all the kids in the class so some won’t be left out.

 Your mommy has a list of all the kids from your teachers so everyone receives a Valentine and no one is left out.  You never know who your next best friend will be, do you?”
      “You mean I could not like somebody today, and then like them another day?”  Matt’s nose scrunched up again.
      “That’s right, Matt.  And you too, Sarah.  We make new friends all the time.  So giving everyone a Valentine is like a treasure hunt—maybe you’ll find a new friend you didn’t know you had.”
       “But when you were little, not everyone was everyone’s friend, right G-Ma?”  Sarah looked up at me as Matt drove the question home.

      “G-Ma, so you didn’t get any Valentines from your school after the boy hit you with the rock?”  Both Matt’s and Sarah’s faces were twisted in empathy for me and their eyes moist. “Poor G-Ma,” they chorused.

      “It turned out to be a fine day after all,” I said, lifting my Voice.  “Jimmy Screnar, the only boy in my tiny class, who lived in the next block, delivered my Valentines from my class to me at home.  It was almost as much fun going through them after school as it would have been at class.  And, GaGa, my mommy was sitting next to me, as I’m sitting with you two, showering me with love.”

      I decided to tell them another story of Valentine Terror. " I remember another Valentines day when I was sad," I said.  "A girl named Marita Warfield sat next to me and she got a card from everyone in the two rooms of my school house – there were four classes in a room –and I didn’t get one from everyone. 

 I was so sad.  I thought everyone like Marita more than me.”

       “I get it, G-Ma, Valentines Day is a day of telling someone with a card, that you care about them; or to donate to the Childrens’ Fund so the special kids will get Valentines.  I’m going to send them my tooth fairy dollar. You know I have a stack of Monster cards to write out to all my classmates.  And Sarah has Hello Kitty cards for her classmates.  Right, G-Ma?”

        Matt jumped off the bench and helped Sarah down.  “Let’s go home so I can write out cards for Mommy and Daddy, Auntie ‘E’, Nana and Grampa Joe, and G-Pa.” Matt mischievously eyed me and smiled.

      “And, for G-Ma, Matt.  You forgot G-Ma.”  Sarah screeched angrily at her brother.

      “Just teasing, G-Ma.  Just teasing.”  Matt giggled and whispered into his sister’s ear.

      “I forgot, Matt.  Okay.”  Sweet Sarah was humming to herself again, smiling and took my hand.   I knew I would get the absolutely most fabulous Valentine’s card ever from my two little lovebugs.  I already had the gift of love from them.  What could be better.”
       And the squirrel.  I wouldn’t forget.  I’d come by the park on Valentine’s Day and give him a few nuts.  I figured he felt like I often did—that nobody loved him—but that wasn’t true.   I had gotten my  bag of Valentines, and he would get his.  He’d just have to wait.  




Go To Sophia 14: "The Shamrock Of Vigilance"


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