February and I go way back. All thanks to an artist mother who felt the second month of the year deserved as much enthusiasm as December. For those that feel St. Valentine’s Day is a whole lot of Hallmark hooey, watch out for me.
Think about it; still dark at 7:30am, Christmas sparkle, if celebrated, long dismantled. If in Boston, three feet of snow or ice on the ground. In the Pacific Northwest, the air is cold and damp, all joy buried under layers of polar fleece.
When I was a child, my earliest memories were the anticipation of Valentine’s Day. We planned: late January, the art supplies were laid in; red paper, glitter, ribbons, scissors, colored pencils, tape, all spread across the kitchen table that became the crafting center for weeks. We cut, pasted and embellished heart collages of all shapes and sizes for cards, place mats and notes; spread glitter wildly, everything pink and red, while debating chocolate cake preferences. The family heart-shaped baking pan was found, rinsed and ready.
Cards from my grandparents were purchased at the drug store. They didn’t sign their names, only “from your secret admirer!” with funny faces penned at the corner. My father leaned towards Snoopy-themed cards, “guess who?” written in his loopy backwards script. My mother painted ornate and beautiful love notes. If only I had kept them.
On the eve of the 14th our dining room table was laden. Piles of colorful cards, candy conversation hearts, boxes of grocery store assorted chocolates at each plate. My mother hung mobiles that twirled from the ceiling, usually hearts sprinkled with gold and silver stars. Three generations crowded together for dinner that night, celebrating each other with some paper, sparkle and the sweetness of being together.
Years later, as a mother of three, I carried on the tradition of homemade cards and declared our valentine’s menu would be waffle, bacon, strawberry and whipped cream. Put out my best china. Lit red candles. Pulled my family close. Spent the next day wiping sprinkles and cream off the ceiling with a smile.
I am full of extra heart this month, as well as acutely aware that love shape-shifts through the decades. My list is long; I have collected cards, construction paper, stickers and red-themed markers since they hit the store racks in January. I try to send to anyone who needs to be thought of, anyone who has been kind to me, anyone who needs to know they are loved even if I am often three thousand miles away. A deep, visceral pleasure floods me to create, write, sign or stamp these missives.
St. Valentine (his authenticity often disputed, but who cares) and the card industry are not off the mark; February, the dreary hump month, made worse during covid and variants, has heart at a time when we need it. My valentines, whether written, glued or baked, scribbled with hearts or flowers or funny faces, deliver mine.
I have convinced my cousin to help put together a gal pal night on the 14th. The tradition continues; my closet holds surprises, the red flag is up on the mailbox. I will search hard for good strawberries.
It cannot be helped: February is still cherry-red, heart-shaped, chocolate-infused and thrilling, full of secrets and surprises and hope. We all need it. My Mom knew a good celebration in a deep winter month couldn’t hurt anyone.