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Sun, Sept. 22

Older Than Dirt: Valentine's Day memories, from Mom and Dad to that special guy who loved See's Candy.

Are you looking for love? The kind that means a special Valentine's Day celebration. The kind of love that makes your heart race just hearing their car pull up in front. I like to think of it as the 16-year-old kind of love, with the guy you are sure is THE ONE who will surely be together with you forever. If you have never experienced the kind of love this is, you have surely missed out.

Valentine's Day always meant flowers and candy at our house. Not for us kids, of course, but for our Mother. My parents did not have a perfect marriage by any standard, but my Dad never forgot to take care of Mama on Mother's Day and Valentine's Day. It did not seem to matter what was going on in our house, our Dad just knew what was expected of him. Our Mother would always act surprised when Daddy came home with his hands behind his back and a smile on his face. This ritual was a part of our lives, and our Dad just had this move down to a science.

Us kids, on the other hand, had a perfect opportunity to write out our little cards and put them into envelopes for our classmates. We usually got a list of names from our teacher, just to make sure we did not forget anyone. It did not matter whether or not you even liked a particular student, if they were on the list they got a Valentine Card.

Those were indeed the days, when "room mothers" made sure that a party was also a part of the celebration. Red and pink hearts would be all over the walls of the classroom, and we always knew that home-made cupcakes were coming! I guess kids didn't have allergies to everything then, because NO-ONE asked what was in the cupcakes! We just ate them - and everyone survived!

If we got very lucky, our teacher would even add a small box of candy hearts - the kind that had messages on them- into our Valentine bag. Our Valentine bag was actually sort of a mail-box, even though it was just a decorated, folded and glued giant envelope attached to the back of your chair.

We did love those classroom parties. It did not matter how many friends you had, or even if you had any at all. Your name was on the list, and you were getting cards!

It seems like most holidays were celebrated in class, back in the day. Everything was not about who believed in what religion, we just had fun.

As the years went on, Valentine's Day morphed into a whole other thing. If you were boyfriend-less, it would be devastating! Who can show up to the Valentine's Day school dance alone? Yikes! If you were not one of the popular kids, you might as well look for a babysitting job for that night. Oh, the shame of it all.

But alas, as you get older it does become far less important. You walk along the aisle at the grocery store and it is all heart-shaped candy boxes, flowers and cards. Even if you truly have no romantic ideas left in your head, you find yourself remembering some pretty special Valentine's Day from years ago. Of course, you remember at least one very special boy from school. Maybe he was the shy one who always sat alone. Maybe he was the most popular guy and you just assumed you didn't have a prayer of getting his attention. Yet you still manage to find a big smile in your heart when you think of him.

I often find myself thinking of someone who bought me my favorite perfume on Valentine's Day. Back then, they always gave you a free box of See's chocolates with the purchase. This guy always had a sweet tooth for Sees, and I did not mind at all that he got the candy! Just the fact that he remembered Valentine's Day was pretty romantic for him!

My own parents set the bar pretty darn high for Valentine's Day. After nearly 40 years, they still had romance between them. I often hear the songs in my head that my Dad would sing to my mother as he danced with her around our kitchen. I think I always wanted to have that kind of relationship with someone in my lifetime. Sadly, it just never happened that way for me.

Valentine's Day is many things to many people. Those of us who have had a good experience with love at some time in our lives will always cherish the sweet memories it brings to mind.

And if you are still looking for love, perhaps it is waiting in the aisle at your local Walmart! Stranger things have happened. If this is what you want, hang in there. If you keep your heart open, someone may just find their way in.

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