The Valentine Box
It all started with a plain white box sitting on the table at the front of the classroom.
It was second grade, Mrs. Bluma McCrary's class, and the first week of February in 1965. I don't remember much about Valentine's Day in the first grade, but in second grade, I remember it all vividly.
The box was covered in white butcher paper, and the lid which was wrapped separately, had a long rectangular hole cut in the top. Thinking back now, I realize it was larger than a regular shoe box, most likely it was a boot box.
It raised my curiosity that Monday morning. That seemed to happen a lot in Mrs. McCrary's room. She didn't thrust teaching upon us so much as she made us curious about things so that we wanted to learn more.
We got through the normal morning business: roll call, the collection of lunch money, the pledge to the flag, the Lord's Prayer. It was time for reading groups, but just before telling the first group to head to the reading table, she walked over to the table where the box lay. Holding it aloft, she announced that Valentine's Day would be next week and we would decorate the box to hold our Valentine cards.
We went about our morning routine: reading groups first, then spelling, a short morning recess. After we came inside, we started math and soon it was time for lunch.
After lunch, and once we were all settled into our desks, she passed out red and pink construction paper and scissors. We were told we would make hearts to decorate the box. I fretted as, I'd already decided at seven, I was no artist. All of my attempts at drawing hearts were awkward, lop-sided disasters. I was relieved when she showed us how to fold our paper in half and draw a half heart that, when cut, would be whole.
On the table by the box were containers with paper doilies, bits of red and pink ribbon, small lengths of white lace, red sequins and vials of red, gold and silver glitter. We were encouraged to come to the table to decorate our hearts with the assortment of supplies and the small army of Elmer's glue bottles which were neatly stacked in rows.
In the next thirty minutes we toiled to create spectacular hearts to adorn the box. Pieces of red ribbon were pasted to small pink hearts which were mounted on squares of paper doilies. Large red hearts were dotted with glue and then sprinkled with gold glitter. Pink hearts with red glitter were edged with bits of lace. Glue covered our fingers, drying to a sticky film, which we peeled off and inspected for the imprint of our fingerprints.
Our masterpieces were left to dry on the table, we were told we would glue them on tomorrow. Everyone was encouraged to wash their hands and we soon started a science lesson.
The human heart, we discovered, looked nothing like our paper creations. We learned basic information about our hearts pumping blood throughout our bodies and ended the lesson by coloring a picture of a human heart.
Mrs. McCrary incorporated other learning activities around the holiday for the rest of that week. In math we learned that Johnny had earned one dollar and fifty cents for his allowance for the month. He wanted to buy a box of Valentine cards for his class party which costs seventy-five cents. How much money would he have left?
We added and subtracted dollars and cents, our brows furrowed in concentration.
In English we wrote sentences about Valentine's Day, learning the correct placement of punctuation. We copied the sentences from the board: Will you be my Valentine?
Valentine's Day is on February 14, 1965.
Betty bought a Valentine card, some candy, and a flower for her mother.
She was excited about the party!
For spelling we learned new words: Valentine, February, card, candy, mail, sent, present, decorate, love. We played a word game to see how many words we could make out of the words-Valentine's Day.
My mother bought me a box of Looney Tunes Valentines cards to give to my classmates. As a seven year old, I thought they were hilarious. My favorites were the Tweety card saying: "I'm tweet on you" and Pep Pe LePew, with that poor cat desperately scrambling from his grasp, saying into a heart-shaped dialogue balloon: "You know you can't resist me."
Sitting at our dining room table one night, I labored to write each classmate's name on a card. I suddenly appreciated the fact that I had a short first name. The cards were carried reverently to school and deposited in our Valentine box, which by now had been covered wi th our beautifully decorated hearts.
By the time February 14th came that year, I was completely recruited into the splendor of the holiday. After lunch, we filed into our classroom to sit anxiously while two children were chosen to hand out the cards. Mrs. McCrary helped them distribute the bounty and we tore into our Valentines in a fevered frenzy while a couple of mothers readied the party refreshments.
Reading the cards we laughed at their corny jokes and bad puns, sometimes finding a Sweetheart candy heart inside with sayings like: "Be Mine" or "I Love You" or the one which drew the loudest howls of laughter: "Kiss Me."
After all the cards were opened and the refreshments enjoyed, we headed out to the playground for a recess. Spirits were high as we compared our cards, teasing each other about whether we might have an admirer.
February fourteenth, 1965.
It was an initiation into a childhood ritual repeated for the rest of my elementary years. It's one most children, whatever their ages now, can remember experiencing.
And to think, it all started with a plain white box.
Rose Steedley Williams~©Southernstoryteller~2002
An column I wrote for the Clinch County News way back when, seemed like an appropriate post for today.