A Valentine

  • David Hoffman Valentine’s Day is big business for the aluminum foil industry.

    The shiny, silvery, substance seals Hershey kisses, supports pink frosted cookies on baking sheets, and shrouds school-made valentine mailboxes.

    In grade school, classmates and I were afforded an hour or two in early February to cut, crumple, and cement aluminum foil onto shoeboxes as we prepared for our Valentine’s Day party. After a wrapping of reflective silver, we added sculpted pipe cleaners and symmetrical hearts cut from folded pink, red and white construction paper. “Don’t forget to cut into the fold,” teachers reminded us. 

    After a few final flourishes, we added “inviting” slogans to our valentine vessels such as:  Deposit Cards Here—Or Else!, All Valentines Accepted (except those without candy), No Girls’ (Boys’) Valentines Allowed, and Valentine Dumpster.

    Ah, how Valentine’s Day brought out the looove in our classroom. 

    I actually liked Valentine’s Day (then again I loved spelling tests—with bonus words). If Halloween festivities brought out our ghoul, a winter party our Yule, then Valentine’s Day celebrations reinforced our rule: show kindness to others.  Valentine’s Day provided a forum whereby we could actually tell our friends how much we appreciated them.

    The only problem was that students went out of their way to sabotage this kind message.  They inadvertently forgot to give classmates cards, left the sender’s name off valentines, and penned unsavory editorials on the back of cards.

    By sixth grade, I had had it with the heartless tactics of the Valentine Day Grinches. I was tired of having to get my positive Valentine Day inspiration from the simplistic, hip slogans stamped on tiny candy hearts: Cool Dude, Dig U, B Mine.  I decided that for my final grade school Valentine’s Day party, I would scribe a series of complete, thoughtful sentences onto the back of each student’s valentine, telling him or her how much I had enjoyed being a classmate over the years. Armed with a class list, two or three boxes of dime store valentines, and a fierce determination to provide a heart-felt message, I went to work:

    Dear Brenda, during this final Valentine’s Day party of our elementary school years, please know that I have enjoyed your friendship and willingness to share your dessert each day.  You are a good writer.  Please return my ruler you borrowed in fourth grade.

    Dear Billy, it’s been great knowing you over the years.  You’re a terrific athlete.  I forgive you for pushing me down on the blacktop in third grade and sending me to the doctor for x-rays and three stitches. 

    Dear Terry, thanks for being my buddy. I liked when we worked on the squid report in fourth grade and got an A, even though I did all of the research and my mom typed it, and I drew all the pictures, and I bought the report cover. Anyway, it was nice working with you.

    In the time it took for the ground hog to stare down his shadow, Lincoln to blow out his birthday candles, and Cupid to shoot his flaming arrow into my piece of frozen Nebraska prairie, I had finished my kind crusade and penned thirty-some-odd valentines, signed, sealed and ready for delivery. 

    And deliver I did on that Valentine’s Day.  Like some intricate square dance, my classmates and I pranced around the room depositing small white envelopes into decorated mailboxes.  When we finally finished our doesy-does and returned to our seats, I waited with bated breath to see how my peers would respond to their sincerely scripted cards. I braced myself for their tears of joy, nods of approval, and thumbs-up gestures. What I got instead was a business-as-usual scene of clumsy fingers ripping envelopes in search of red hots and chocolates, the voices of kids ooh-ing, ah-ing, and gagging over silly expressions of Hallmark love, and the fleet feet of room parents rushing about foisting rice crispy treats and cups of Hawaiian Punch onto our littered desks. No one acknowledged my efforts.

    In the great Reynold’s tradition, I too had been royally foiled on that Valentine’s Day.

    And yet, over the course of that school year, my classmates did indeed find authentic ways to reciprocate my generous gesture. I received beautiful personalized letters from the class when I lost my mother to cancer. As budding editors, we routinely reviewed each other’s written work, offering words of encouragement and praise. And at year’s end, our hearts guided our pens as niceties were scribbled on the inside covers of yearbooks.

    I learned it doesn’t take Valentine’s Day to remind us of the need to communicate kindness. We can recognize and acknowledge the inherent goodness in each other on a daily basis. Being inclusive at our school is as meaningless as the message on a candy heart if we don’t show it through actions and words. We can, to paraphrase the famous Rogers and Hart lyric, make every day Valentine’s day by banishing bullying behavior, showing respect to each other, and being kind to ourselves.  We can show our affection for our school by keeping it free of litter, making safe choices at recess and making a commitment to come to Island Park each day, on time, ready to learn and contribute.

    One needs only to chat with children, witness the supportive acts of staff, marvel at our daily volunteers, attend a PTA event, or participate in one of our many charitable drives to recognize that huge hearts are alive and well in our learning community.    

    May our hearts continue to shine like luminous aluminum foil, and may every day be Valentine’s Day.


    David Hoffman