As an elementary school kid in the fifties and early sixties, I considered the month of February a real drag. The hullabaloo of Christmas had long since departed, and after gladly turning the calendar from January to February, there was nothing to look forward to but another month of donning coat, hat, gloves, scarf, boots, Vaseline on the lips, and school books and trudging up the road to the bus stop on miserably frigid mornings and then trudging back down in the afternoon.
In between were days filled by sitting stiffly and wordlessly in rigid wooden chairs learning punctuation, long division, and the capitals of all fifty states. There were no days off from school in February. Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, there was no Martin Luther King Day, and, at least in my Catholic school, there was no Presidents Day to give us a break from the tedium.
School was occasionally cancelled if it snowed substantially—perhaps a foot or more—but most of the time we had to go through cruel and unusual punishment to earn that precious day off. There was no such thing as a two-hour delay. We slogged up the hill to the bus stop bundled up like Nanook of the North, slipping and sliding on the snow that still had not been plowed since the overnight storm.
Multiple buses with chains on their tires would clunk by the bus stop, and, if it wasn’t our bus, we cheered even if it meant subjecting ourselves to another half hour of Siberian torture. Eventually, just as we were about to transform into abominable snowmen, the crossing guard would allow us to go home, red-faced, snotty-nosed, and sure that someone would soon find our frozen carcasses on the side of the road.
Nor was school cancelled due to the cold except for one time that I can recall. If I remember correctly, school was called off for three days in January of 1963 because the real temperatures in Pittsburgh went down to -18. The National Weather Service didn’t use the term “wind chill factor” at that time, so you can empathize with the anguish we school children had to endure when we were forced out into those brutal conditions. I know, I know. You residents of Minnesota and Alaska are calling me a wuss right now. Negative 18 is downright balmy to you.
Back then, I found only three redeeming qualities about the month of February:
1. Snow . . . which led to sled riding, snowmen, snow forts, and snowball fights, followed by warming our feet at the heat register and enjoying Mother’s homemade hot cocoa afterwards.
2. Valentine’s Day
I talked at length about sled riding in my February 2014 post “Visions of Sled Riding Danced in Our Heads.” So let me move on to . . . Valentine’s Day. Yes, what rescued February from the dung heap of the calendar was Valentine’s Day. I looked forward to buying my little valentines and spending considerable time determining which valentine would go to which girl or boy. My favorite valentines would go to my best friends, of course, and to the kids who treated me kindly. Since giving a valentine to all was encouraged, if not required, my least favorite valentines went to those who treated me unkindly.
In the meantime, we spent art class transforming shoe boxes into “exquisitely” decorated valentine repositories. We also created valentine art projects, like this one on the left that I have been saving for more than 50 years. I can still picture myself sitting at my school desk debating how to use my red, pink, and white crayons to make an enchanting vase of valentines.
When February 14 arrived, we school kids waited in anticipation for the last hour of the school day. It was one of the few school days in which we packed up our textbooks and had some fun. The teacher would call us by rows to deposit our valentines in each classmate’s shoe box, and then we could pull them out of envelopes and finally read them! Some were one piece; some were folded in halves or thirds. Some came accompanied by a small candy treat. I would always check to see who did and who did not give me a valentine. I didn’t save any of my valentines from the 50’s and 60’s, but here are a few that were typical of the time.
At home, I would reread all my valentines and then enjoy a little candy booty. We usually had some little candy conversation hearts, which haven’t changed much in 50 years. Actually, the Necco Company has been producing them for Valentine’s Day since the Civil War. Common sayings on the hearts in the 50’s and 60’s were “Be mine,” “Kiss Me,” and “Puppy Love.” Now you might find sayings such as these: “Table 4 Two,” “Recipe 4 Love,” “Text Me,” “Tweet Me,” and “You Rock.” For more compelling facts on conversation hearts candy, read here at the infoplease website.
But the best candy in the house were those chocolates that came in giant satin-covered heart-shaped boxes. My dad bought one for my mother every year on Valentine’s Day. They were elegantly decorated in pink, red, or yellow with bows and lace and other 3-D finery. My sister Sandy remembers very carefully making a selection out of the big Valentine box, only to be disappointed, after breaking it open, that its flavor was not to her liking. So she would sneak it back in the box and choose something else. I myself hated the chocolate covered cherries. The candy boxes above are similar to the ones my dad bought my mother. Lalabird pinned them at Pinterest.
My mother saved the valentine cards below all the days of her life. My dad gave these particular ones to her most likely in the 1930’s and 1940’s. It’s unfortunate that you cannot fully see the many special 3-D touches, such as ribbons, bows, and a shiny red plastic heart. Only two were dated. The fan valentine was given to my mother in 1937 on their first Valentine’s Day together as man and wife. The heart-shaped box of flowers valentine was given to her in 1938. I did not include the insides of cards since the sentiments were private. Actually, I should clarify that the card with a hanging basket of flowers was given to my dad from my mother. I think this may be the case of women being more sentimental than men: Women keep little remembrances; men generally do not.
Included with those vintage valentines was this one (front and back) sent to my family by the young daughter of my parents’ good friends, most likely in the 1940’s before I was born. I’m sure everyone thought it was cute and innocuous, but today it would be considered inappropriate for elementary kids to send to each other, wouldn’t you say?
Here are a few “teacher” valentines that I saved from my first two years of teaching in 1974 and 1975. I taught grades 3-5 at that time.
My son Frank and daughter Leslie carried on the valentine tradition during their childhood years, starting around 1980. Here are a few 80’s valentines that I still have. Remember Care Bears, Popples, and Alf?
Here are two little art projects that my son Frank made for Valentine’s Day. The Valentine man was created in kindergarten in 1984. The second was made in Sunday School, also in 1984.
So there are my Valentine’s Day memories—from reading my parents’ loving messages at the start of their marriage in 1936 through my own children’s affectionate homemade valentines and art projects in the 1980’s.
From what I’ve seen, popular valentines of 2015 are Frozen, of course, Spiderman, Monsters Inc., and Jake and the Neverland Pirates. Parents and grandparents of young children will know exactly who they are.
Are there valentines or Valentine’s Day artwork that you’d like to share? Or perhaps some captivating stories that took place on February 14th? Did anyone out there pop the question or accept a marriage proposal on that day?
Oh, by the way, I didn’t forget. What was the third redeeming quality of the month of February?
3. February is the short month. Only 28 days and before you knew it, the crocuses would be popping up and our bicycles would be pulled out of storage.
That encouraging thought still applies, so chin up, all ye who are still recovering from the Blizzard of ’15 and other winter weather-related adversity. In the meantime, Happy Valentine’s Day to you all!
Well, that’s all folks. I have to go address the valentines I bought for my 3 grandchildren who live hundreds of miles away.
“Love cures people—by both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it.” —Dr. Karl Menninger
Karen Gennari is the author of The Crab Hollow Chronicles, a fictitious memoir based on her experiences growing up in a neighborhood full of boys in 1961/62. It also explores the merits and challenges of life in a Catholic family of seven.
Join nine-year-old Karen Schmidt in her attempts to navigate Crab Hollow Road amidst the overwhelming male majority who beleaguer her at every opportunity. Does Karen have the fortitude to weather toadnappings, midnight escapades, false impersonation, and more? Along the way, relive the people, products, music, sports, and headlines of the early 1960’s. Virtually every page references the 1960’s. Lots of your favorite toys are mentioned in these pages.