Kindergarten was awful at first, then wonderful. My first kindergarten teacher had a temper problem and shouted at the kids from the first day. I got beat up in the cloakroom, and she wouldn’t do anything about it. This went on daily for a few weeks until my mom got me transferred to another school. It’s been so long that I can’t remember anything else about that first school except for being shouted at, threatened and hit. The second school was wonderful. It was built in 1909 out of brown brick and dark wood in a kind of imitation Tudor/Gothic style. I went to school there for five years, through fourth grade.
It was not a high-achieving school. It was a place where they put old, experienced teachers out to pasture. Fortunately, there’s more of value in life than having high test scores. The old ladies and gentlemen who taught there knew this, and passed it on to their pupils. At this school I learned about other countries, cultures and religions, how to be respectful and courteous, and a lot about American history. I also gained a great appreciation for the arts, which I’ve never lost. This was the school where the boy played Flamenco guitar, which I wrote about in “The Sensuous Strings”.
A week or so before February 14th we were told we would have a party for Valentine’s Day. I didn’t really know much about it, but I hadn’t known much about Chanukah either until they introduced it to us the previous December and that had been really interesting. I was game. Our teacher explained that it wasn’t a historical holiday like Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, but an honorary holiday. It’s a day people have chosen to honor something, and it has rituals, like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Chanukah. Isn’t that a genteel, positive way of explaining it to a five year old? Those teachers put the best spin on everything. They must have contacted our parents with details, because we went shopping for Valentine’s Day cards.
These weren’t the big cards you opened up, with jokes or sentiments inside (and maybe money if they were from your grandparents). These were little cards made from a single piece of paper. There were ones shaped like cupid, and illustrations of flowers, and lots of variations of heart designs. They contained simple, generic statements like “A Valentine for You” or “My Friend”. We needed to buy enough for everyone in class. I still didn’t have a clue why we were doing this, but the cards were colorful and I was curious to have the mystery explained come the fateful day.
Our Valentine’s Day party was at the end of the week, only two days after Lincoln’s birthday, so it was a busy week. We were still kind of in Lincoln mode, and the walls still had his silhouette and photographs on them. However, a new art theme appeared as the week went on. We put up red streamers, and drew hearts and flowers and cupids to put up, and we cut out heart shapes with our round-edged scissors. On the day of the party, our teacher wrote LOVE on the blackboard in very large letters. She told us that love was important, that it made life meaningful, and that people who don’t get enough are hurt from the lack of it. I’ll bet you know some of those people. I do.
We all went around the classroom, selecting a card from the ones we had brought to place on each desk. When the Valentines were all handed out, we went back to our seats to enjoy looking at the piles of colorful cards, which now represented something for us. It was a gesture. It was a way to honor something important.
Whether you are with others today, or alone, whether you choose to give remembrances in a tangible form, or whether you prefer to offer yours by saying it, touching someone, or just doing something nice, I hope each one of you may find a way to honor love.
Happy Valentine’s Day!