My most memorable Valentine's Day was when I was around 7 years old. I was in public school and my closest friends were an unreliable bunch of outcasts -- a tiny Vietnamese girl and a wild-eyed, unkempt blonde who insisted on wearing only white. She'd have been diagnosed with ADD if they'd been doing that 20 years ago.
My memories of elementary school are lonely ones in which I'm watching others from the sidelines. I must not have been terribly social. I recall eating my lunches alone and sometimes sitting on a bench, pretending my hands were binoculars and I could spy on other students from afar while they played.
Growing up, my mom kept only healthy food in the house. Sweets were a treat: each Saturday my sister and I were allowed to pick one candy bar from the grocery store. When and how we ate it was our decision. I always ate mine voraciously, and immediately. My sister often portioned hers out.
My school lunches were usually unappetizing. How great can a sandwich and sliced apples taste when they've been sitting in your cubby hole for four hours? On warm days my lunch box would take on a stale processed meat smell. I often threw most of my lunch in the garbage.
But one day -- Valentine's Day -- I opened my pink "My Little Pony" lunchbox to find a shocking stash of candy. I don't even remember what kind of candy it was; I just remember it was a lot, and I ate it all immediately, ignoring the sandwich and apple slices. I remember feeling as though I'd found a treasure, and a warm feeling of gratitude toward my mother.
I return to this memory often, even when the calendar is nowhere near to Valentine's Day, because it's one of the happiest memories of my childhood, as strange as that may be. I had and still have a deep love for my mom, who's always been the kindest and most thoughtful person I've ever met. I've never had the typical relationship many women have with their mothers, in which they feel criticized.
And now I have another, newer memory of Valentine's Day. Last weekend, I was helping clean out Hubs' grandmother's house, and discovered that she'd kept every single Valentine her daughter had received in elementary school, and the Valentines she and her husband had given their daughter. They are precious cards from the 1950s, still bright in color and distinct in their mid-century look and feel.
Hubs' mom was their only child, so they kept absolutely everything that had anything to do with her. She meant the world to her mother, which we know not only because of the way Hubs' grandma used to talk about her, but also because of the poems, the scribbled notes, the letters, the innumerable writings in which his grandmother speaks of her love for her daughter. In life, their relationship had its ups and downs, but in the end, we know Hubs' grandma always believed her daughter was the single most perfect thing she'd ever created, and she couldn't ever quite believe her luck.