He sent his love a valentine,
His love did not reply.
We never dare to care to sign
These things, I wonder why.
I sent a few unsigned valentines back in the day. So did others at Rosslyn Heights Elementary School. If 35 kids were in your class, you sent 34 and received 34 store-bought valentines like the one on this page. On the back you wrote "To" and "From." In some instances, I left the "From" space blank as dictated by the prepubescent male mind. Other times I wrote, "From: Guess Who?" Nobody I knew was sufficiently sophisticated to write "From: A Secret Admirer" or "From: Your Special Friend." I tried Pig Latin once but no one could make sense of it.
The run-up to Valentine's Day took some classroom time each year. Everyone had to make a box to receive his or her incoming valentines. Mine was always more serviceable than artful. I covered a shoebox with red crepe paper, spreading white globs of glue with my finger, then adding accents of paper lace and cut-out hearts. A scissored slot and my name in crayon finished the job. In those days, I was Johnny R.
Most of the unsigned valentines were delivered at night Feb. 14. I would tiptoe onto the recipient's porch, lay the card on the doormat, ring the bell and run. It was great fun—second only to trick-or-treat—and I looked forward to it each year. Upon reflection, however, the old ring & run seems as unsatisfying as a knock-knock joke without a punch line. I conclude the custom was imported wholesale from England where the mythical Jack Valentine delivered anonymous presents to the front doors of Victorians. Not unlike the case of Dr. Jekyll, Jack Valentine had an alter ego known as Snatch Valentine. The gifts he left on the porch had a string attached, and when the recipient reached for it, the package was snatched away. I found Snatch had more fun than Jack. I tied a length of black thread onto a valentine and, from a hiding place, yanked them away at just the right moment.
The nighttime valentines now seem an ancient and utterly innocent practice. It is hard to imagine this 2015 scenario: "Hey! The smog isn't too bad tonight, so shut down Grand Theft Auto and let's deliver some valentines!" Innocence prevented me from evaluating the words on my valentines. Most cards had some sort of silly word play anchored by the words "be my valentine." I didn't know what being someone's valentine entailed, but its appeal registered in my bones. I surely desired Sharon E., my secret sixth-grade heartthrob, as a valentine, whatever that meant. More interesting is this week's realization that I happily delivered be-my-valentine cards to neighbors Keith H. and Gary S.
I doubt kids will be delivering valentines Saturday night. The custom is too quaint, too out of fashion. We live in an age where you can have your portrait printed on Valentine M&Ms. Or, you may text a photo of your privates instead—the choice a large percentage of young people make, according to McAfee, the network security firm. Kids may wear helmets outdoors and restraints in cars, but at home, they watch television ads about "four-hour erections" and "painful intercourse." Young readers of the Sunday newspaper find a two-page Trojan ad about a lubricant for "intensifying foreplay and intercourse." (Johnny R. would have blushed.) Factor the Internet in, and you find more Utahns googled "Kama Sutra" in 2014 than they did any other topic. Innocence has gone the way of the Musketeers. Christian Grey may be better known than Willy Wonka.
The handmade valentine box is also a thing of the past. It was abandoned by teachers when competition among parents—probably the same obstreperous ones who ruin Little League games—got out of hand. Valentine cards have been updated to a point where it is almost impossible to find one with "be my valentine" on it. My guess is that the phrase was focus-grouped away—too vague! I scrolled though some valentine websites in search of a "be my valentine." I found none. I did come across a Hallmark eValentine which read, "Sex on TV can't hurt you ... unless you fall off."
Sex is the subtext of Valentine's Day. Adults show no lack of interest in either. Kids may be trading fewer paper valentines, but this week, adults will buy upward of 132 million of them, according to Natasha Rankin from the Greeting Card Association. More than half of all adults will buy a card. Some valorize love, some are funny and some are provocative. At Barnes & Noble, you can buy a valentine book of 22 "steamy coupons" redeemable for such amusements as a bout of "delicious lovemaking with whipped cream." The stationer Paper Source offers this "delightfully true card for modern couples": "There is nobody else I'd rather lie in bed and look at my phone next to. Happy Valentine's Day!" In a similar vein, Etsy.com has a card that reads: "You are the one I text when I'm drunk. That's love!"
Etsy.com is an online craft store that provides an outlet for people to sell their creative stuff. I have in mind a rhyming Etsy valentine which might find favor in Salt Lake City this month. My inspiration draws on Fred Rogers and Billy Joel. Credit the Pig Latin to Johnny R.
From: Guess Who?
"I love you just the way you are-way. Be my Valentine (unless God says onay)."