As I lovingly prepared my shoebox, I said to my mother, "I am so excited, wondering how many valentines I will get."
In Ellwood City in the 1940s, Valentine's Day at Wayne Consolidated Grade School was one of the highlights of my young life.
Each year, I had renewed hope to collect what I thought would be a treasure trove of cards. The night before the big day, I painstakingly cut and wrapped red construction paper around my box. To add to its beauty, I cut out pink hearts and glued them on all the sides. The next step was to attach a piece of frilly lace, which I got from my mother's sewing supplies. Last, but not least, I carefully cut out the slot for the cards to fit through.
I could hardly wait for the big day to arrive. When the time came for us to pass out our valentines, some of the students, including me, were disappointed because not everyone got a card from each classmate. Sometimes, I only received five cards and found it hard to hold back my tears.
Many kids just gave cards to their friends. (Was I that unpopular?) Our teacher one year must have noticed this and made a wise decision that each person would give a card to every classmate, thereby sparing hurt feelings.
Though my box was almost empty some years, I received a special valentine every year from my friend, LeRoy. It was so big and beautiful, it could not fit through the slot. He handed it to me personally, and I could see how much he had a grade school crush on me despite the fact that I had buck teeth and, eventually, in the eighth grade, thick, coke-bottle glasses.
I couldn't see a foot in front of me for many years, which makes it a wonder how I got such good grades. For tests that were written on the blackboard, I stood with my nose up against the board in order to read. The other kids were yelling at me to move -- they couldn't see the questions because I was in front of them. Didn't anyone think that was odd? Yet I went without glasses for most of grade school.
One Valentine's Day started out so awesome! I received an ID bracelet from my friend, Kenny. It was so beautiful, and at first I felt special. I hardly had a chance to show it off to my friends before he asked for it back. He said it would only be temporary, as he wanted to get my name engraved on it. So then I felt even more special.
As the days went by, however, he never gave it back to me. My heart was crushed. For a long time, my broken heart wondered whether he gave it to another girl, telling her the same story. I hoped not, as I did not want her to experience the hurt I felt.
LeRoy called me one Valentine's Day, though, to tell me how much he liked me. I asked him how that could be when I was physically unattractive with my buck teeth and thick glasses. His response was, "What buck teeth and thick glasses? I see you as a beautiful person inside and outside." What a sweet thing to say -- just what I needed to hear to boost my self-esteem.
Long after we finished school, LeRoy continued the valentine tradition. He kept mailing them to me until he passed on several years ago. We each had significant others in our lives, but that was OK. They understood our special bond of friendship.
For the last couple of years, medical problems have prevented my husband from buying a valentine for me. That is OK. Even though the card isn't there, I know the love is, as we will soon celebrate our 57th wedding anniversary.
And, I can always reminisce about the good old days of a childhood crush and young love!
Patty Gunnett of Franklin Park, a former secretary and baby-sitter, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.