SOPHIA - 13
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
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
“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
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
“Oh, so there would
be more soldiers, right, G-Ma?” inserted my wise
“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.
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.
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.
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
“Okay,” Matt endorsed. “Yes, G-Ma, go on,” Sarah chimed.
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
“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,
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
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
“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
“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
“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
“Six, you were six, G-Ma” Sarah
“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
“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
“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
“Not like our family, right G-Ma. Our
family has lots of love and is happy.” Matt wisely nodded his blonde
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
“I ran home, crying the whole way. My
mommy heard me slam the front door. She hurried to hug and comfort
“Your mommy is GaGa, right, G-Ma? Were
you bleeding? Did you need a big Band-Aid?
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,
“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
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.
To Sophia 14: "The Shamrock Of Vigilance"