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Fri, May 24

It's time to consider hearts, flowers and that crazy little thing called love

I hate special occasions, especially those when the husband is expected to remember to bring gifts, like flowers, candy or cute little stuffed animals to his wife.

I can deal with birthdays and Christmas, but Easter, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and anniversaries, well, those are all a pain in the patooty.

Unfortunately, my wife loves this crap. Heaven forbid that I should ever forget.

"You don't love me!"

If I had a nickel for ever time I heard that, I could have a really good party.

Here's how the conversation goes:She: You don't love me anymore! Me: We've been married for 40 years. Why do you think I'm still around? She: Because you couldn't find anyone else to put up with you.

She's right, so after expressing a need for cigarettes, I hightail it down to the 7-11 and buy a card and some silk flowers.

Then, the conversation goes like this. She: Oh, these are beautiful! But you shouldn't have. You know we can't afford them. Me: Silence. You just can't win.

What is it with women and flowers? I studied the subject and learned some interesting stuff.

The rose has a rich tradition. In mythology, Cupid spilled a cup of nectar on a white rose, turning it red. In another fable, Venus, hurrying to Adonis, pricked her foot on a thorn, and her blood trickled onto a plant, turning the blossoms red.

The rose, the English national flower, was used in battle. The Yorkists chose the white rose as their emblem, and the Lancastrians wore the red. This battle, the War of the Roses, lasted 30 years.

One legend reveals that the white rose was consecrated to Horus, the Egyptian god of silence. At private counsels held by the ancients, a rose was carved directly over the heads of the conferees into the ceiling of the assembly room. That meant all matters discussed in that room were secret. Thus the expression Under the Rose, or Subrosa.

Besides the beauty and color the rose offers, there was and is a practical side to adorning a room with their fragrance. In a time when hygiene was almost nonexistent, floral arrangements helped cover offensive odors from people and from the garbage and waste in the streets.

Rose petals were strewn in front of monarchs not as a tribute, but because the aroma they released when he stepped on them helped protect the monarch from the odor of his adoring public.

Floral tributes were placed in hospitals to help mask the smell of the sickroom and to cover the smell of death before embalming.

So, how then did the Valentine thing start? I'm glad you asked.

Valentine's Day seems to have originated about 269 AD when a priest by the name of Valentine was beheaded. About a year later, a bishop by the same name met the same fate. One of them achieved sainthood. History isn't clear on which one was so honored, but legend has it that Feb. 14 was chosen as the celebration of Christian martyrs, primarily as a diversion from the pagan observance of Lupercalia.

Lupercalia was celebrated on Feb. 15, an ancient Roman fertility festival established by Romulus and Remus. It is said a she-wolf at Lupercal, a cave in Palestine, suckled the pair.

Lupercalia often lasted several days, featured vast quantities of wine and food, and epitomized debauchery and excess.

Another source states that Valentine's Day wasn't associated with St. Valentine at all. It is thought to have been confused with the Norman/French word Galatin, which means lover of women. The letters V and G were interchangeable.

Yet another story holds that the ancient Europeans believed birds began to pair off in mid-February. People celebrated by exchanging romantic messages and gifts.

In one tradition, a boy would draw a girl's name from a box and she was deemed to be his sweetheart for the year.

That tradition lasted until the 17th century when in France, both sexes would draw from a Valentine box. I'm sure that resulted in some interesting matches.

Today, the tradition of sending notes is just part of the Valentine message. Heart shapes represent emotion, roses denote love and lacy borders have the connotation of romance.

I found no reference to when boxes were first filled with candy in connection with Valentine's Day, but I'm sure it has some romantic significance.

One tradition that never seems to have really caught on was using flowers to send secret messages.

In 1917, George H. O'Neill of Brooklyn, NY - who in all probability ran a flower shop - penned a book titled "Messages of the Flowers." In the book, he identified every popular flower and the message each signified. For instance, the violet mean faithfulness and modesty. A daisy was for hope and the morning glory for affection.

And then there was the rose. Its meaning depended on whether it was white, red or yellow; budding, in full bloom or in a garland.

Mr. O'Neill assigned 37 meanings to the rose, more if you count the meanings of their various parts and petals. So I supposed a rose is a rose, but with many different names.

So, armed now with this handy little book, I tried to recreate a scenario from the past. I had to hark back to the early 1900s when the book was written. There were very few automobiles.. Electric lights and the telephone were in their infancy. The Victorian attitude still prevailed, and parents were very conscientious about protecting their daughters.

A young man who came calling would be received in the parlor, where the couple would sit drinking tea, all under the mother's watchful eye.

Of course, the young couple wanted to do more than drink tea. It took careful planning to have any time alone. A girl's life at home wasn't private, so if the young man sent a letter or note, there was a good chance it would be intercepted. But a bouquet of flowers would always be accepted and even welcomed.

That's where the little book came in. A young man could use the code to send a message. However, this wasn't without pitfalls. For instance, the young man would send a bouquet of seven carnations. The carnations signified time, so the message he intended was, "Meet me at 7 p m."

The girl's father, seeing the lovely bouquet, takes one of the carnations for the lapel of his suit and the girl - silently counting the flowers and performing the necessary mental arithmetic - tells her mother she needs to go to the millinery store for buttons, and she hurries out the door for her 6 p.m. meeting.

But the confusion wasn't all bad. It just led to more trips to the flower shop, which, after all, was the real purpose of the book.


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