Saturday, February 14, 2009

An embarrassing Valentine’s Day story

By R.D. Hohenfeldt

When February rolls around with Valentine’s Day in tow, the old Ozarks Boy always recalls his days as a pupil at Republic Elementary School.

Way back in those days of yore, teachers would encourage children to make “mail boxes” for Valentine’s Day. Then on Valentine’s Day (or the Friday before if Valentine’s Day fell on a weekend) the room mothers would bring in cupcakes and Kool-Aid and they’d have a party. Part of the day’s celebration included distributing valentine cards to the “mail boxes” of classmates.

Now this was embarrassing on a number of levels for the young Ozarks Boy.

His family was of extremely modest means, so there wasn’t enough money to buy nice valentines and all the other accoutrements of the day, including colored construction paper.

For a mailbox one year, the young Ozarks Boy found a shoe box that he covered with aluminum foil. Then, after using a crayon to color a piece of tablet paper, he cut that paper into shapes of hearts and pasted them onto the sides and top of the foil-covered shoe box. With a pocket knife, he stabbed a slot into the top of the box. Have mercy, what an embarrassing mess that so-called mail box was!

One year I recall that the young Ozarks Boy couldn’t find a shoe box or anything else suitable after an extensive search of his house, his grandparents’ house and the barn, so he just used a grocery sack. Using a crayon he decorated the grocery sack with hearts and urgings to “Have a Happy Valentine’s Day!” Oh, it was quite festive in an embarrassing sort of way.

Some of the young Ozarks Boy’s fellow pupils would build mail boxes that looked like miniature U.S. Mail boxes. Some would build mail boxes that looked like houses. One year a girl built a mail box that looked like a castle! It had towers, a gate and a draw bridge, and it took her three trips to bring it into Republic Elementary School from her mother’s car. The young Ozarks Boy suspected then (and still does, even as an old Ozarks Boy) that she had some parental help with the construction.

Placing his colored grocery sack next to that castle was embarrassing to the young Ozarks Boy.

To add a cherry to that Valentine’s sundae of embarrassment, the Republic teachers would combine to have a contest. Each classroom teacher would appoint two or three of the girls to go to another classroom to judge mail boxes.

Do you think the Ozarks Boy’s foil-covered shoe box or his decorated sack ever had a chance of winning a prize in the mail box judging contest with that kind of competition? The answer, of course, is no, no, no.

Valentine’s Day also embarrassed the young Ozarks Boy because he had to give the cheapest valentines available. These were valentines bought at the grocery store. Printed eight or 10 to a sheet, they were partially cut out. You’d punch them the rest of the way out, sign your name on the backs, stick them in the little envelopes provided in the pack and then put them in the mail boxes on party day.

Most embarrassing of all, though, was the fact that he had to give valentines to girls! The young Ozarks Boy was shy. He didn’t talk to girls and when girls talked to him, he stuttered and stammered like a fool before turning away in excruciating emotional pain.

Ozarks Boy had a crush on one girl by the name of Jeanne B. He only talked to her one time in his life. That was after the Valentine’s Day party in fourth grade, The pupils had all walked around distributing their valentines to the mail boxes. They had collected their mail from their own mail boxes and were opening them. The Ozarks Boy opened one large envelope that contained a beautiful card and a little candy heart. On the candy heart were printed the words “I LOVE YOU.” The card was signed “Jeanne B.”

The Ozarks Boy’s face turned the shade of the hearts he had colored on his grocery sack. His own heart started racing. He sat quietly the rest of the party, eating his cupcake slowly and sipping his Kool-Aid.

She loves me, she loves me, she loves me!

His heart sang.

What should he do about it?

Well, he had to talk to her. He had to let her know he felt the same toward her that she felt toward him!

After the party, the teacher let the pupils put on their coats and go out to the playground until the bell rang for the buses to load and the parents to pick up their kids.

The Ozarks Boy carried the “I LOVE YOU” heart in his pocket out to the playground. He got on a swing. He climbed on the bars. He walked around with some buddies. All the while, his heart was pounding.

The bell rang! Time was running out!

As the students lined up to go into the building to get their books and folders and lunch pails, Ozarks Boy sidled up to Jeanne B.

“’at ‘ere wuz quat a card you giv me,” the young Ozarks Boy said to Jeanne B. “Speshully ‘at ‘ere heart.”

That translates to “That there was quite a card you give me. Especially that there heart.” (It should be noted that the Ozarks Boy did eventually learn to speak and write English correctly, although he still enjoys laying on the hill talk thick when speaking to professors or city folk.)

“Well, you’re welcome, I guess,” said Jeanne B. “What was so special about the heart?”

“Wull, it sed yew luv me,” the Ozarks Boy said.

“Oh, my goodness,” said Jeanne B. “I put a heart in each card and that was the last one I had left. I almost didn’t put it in your card, but I didn’t want to be unfair. I hope you don’t think I meant it.”

“Uh, no,” said the Ozarks Boy, sidling away as Jeanne B. turned to her friends, giggling.

Crestfallen and heartbroken, the Ozarks Boy walked into the school house, into the classroom, got his belongings and then went and got on the school bus.

He looked out the window of the bus and saw Jeanne B. get on another bus.

He reached into his pocket, retrieved the candy heart, looked at the “I LOVE YOU” once again and then popped it into his mouth.

No need to waste a good piece of candy, even if you have been spurned by the girl of your dreams.

Well, the Ozarks Boy never spoke to Jeanne B. again the rest of his life.

Nevertheless, he eventually got over being scared of girls, and he did finally get married. Twice, in fact. Yes, life can be strange.

Have a happy Valentine’s Day.—RDH

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