When I think of Valentine’s Day, I always think of red heart boxes full of chocolate candy. When I was young, my father always gave a great big box of candy to my mother, and smaller boxes, with half a dozen pieces each to my sister and me. I always ate all of mine right then and there, and nibbled from Mother’s until it was gone too.
But I have many more Valentine’s Day memories. For example, I remember decorating shoeboxes each year for classmates to fill with valentines. That was a tense situation. Back then there was no mandate that you had to bring one for each person in the class, and somehow everyone seemed to know how many who got, and who gave which to whom. I always groaned inwardly when I counted and found a shortfall. It didn’t matter that only one person ever got a card from everyone in our class. I wanted to be in that category too, and I wasn’t!
Did I remember on those Valentine’s Days that there were always one or two people I simply could not bring myself to address cards to? Why would I have thought I’d get one from everyone when I didn’t give one to everyone?
Embedding questions and reflections like that adds juice to a story or memoir, and they aren’t always easy to answer. It takes a bit off practice to even recognize those whispery thoughts that arise as we write – they are easy to ignore, but worth heeding. They add a “mystery ingredient” to stories. When you capture one of these thoughts, take a break from writing for a bit of memory analysis.
I close my eyes, lean back, and picture myself sitting at our gray limed-oak dining room table, staring out the window at the sky. The table surface is just below armpit level, so my arms stretch straight out. A dittoed list of classmates is on my left. A pile of valentines from the bag I bought for a dollar at Draggon Drug is spread out before me.
These are so dumb. Nobody talks like that, I think as I flip through them. That’s actually part of their effectiveness. Nobody really talks this way, so nobody will take them seriously. I know it’s just a game we play to be nice and fit in, and oh, how I want to fit in! It’s not easy, but I work my way down the list, picking a card for each, signing my name, and addressing the flimsy envelopes. I draw a line through each name as I finish. I’m pleased with my progress.
Then I come to a name that stops me cold. Wilber Winslow (name changed to protect the guilty) is such a creep! I’ll throw up if I have to give him a card, even if I could find one that says “Roses are red, violets are blue, reform school’s the place, for people like you.”
I know he won’t give me a card, so why humiliate myself by giving him one when I know I won’t get one in return? I’m in proactive self-defense mode. A girl has to have some self-respect.
Yes, there’s my answer. I knew I wouldn’t get cards from everyone, and I’ve gotten in touch with my inner Mean Girl and the angst and frustration of fourth grade.
That’s a more interesting story and perhaps more helpful to my grandchildren, one of whom just worked through a similar situation, but with a difference. In this enlightened era, in her school, they are required to give a valentine to each member of the class – even the bratty boy who teases her mercilessly behind the teacher’s back. But that’s her story to write when she grows up.
Write now: think of a tense situation in your past and try re-entering the scene. Think it through. What do you see? What do you hear? What are you thinking? What story are you telling yourself? Write about it.
Photo credit: Dan4th Nicholas