Valentine's Day was a day full of mystery and suspense when I was growing up. In the single-digit grades, I remember getting a whole fistful of valentine cards and sending them out to all of the girls in my class. Every one heard from me. Friend to all, boyfriend to none, scared out of my pants. The teacher doubled as a mail sorter and delivered all of the cards to each person. And every year up until about 6th grade, I got a pile of cards that warmed up the most frigid February day.
What you must understand is that all of the girls would just sign their names on the cards with no emotion and send them up to the mail-sorting teacher. Each boy's name was on an envelope and so the sorting was pretty easy. But there I'd be with a strangle hold on about 15 Valentine's Day cards.
Sure, the cards said many things but one of the more common denominators was the word "love". Wow, a four letter word that you could say and not have to go to confession. Say it as a kid and you may see someone blush. But say it as an adult and well, that's another story.
In Smock, everyone had experienced tough love at one time or another. It may come at the end of a ping pong paddle or a hickory switch or it may come wrapped up like a pierogi. But one way or another, most of us were told that we were loved in a very indirect sort of way. The only person who used the "L" word openly was the priest, but all of the altar boys knew that he really didn't mean it when it came to treating us nicely. Or did he?
And when it came to our parents, sometimes we were just sat down in front of a plate of mystery food and were told to "EAT" and that was that. Parents sort of let us get away from some of the ablutions that the cake eaters did in Uniontown. Maybe that was one of the ways that they "loved" us?
And unlike the germophobes of the 21st Century, we didn't always wash our hands or faces. Have any of you seen this new ad for this soap dispenser that squirts it's product into your awaiting palm without having to touch a disease-infested plunger? Come on. The kids from Smock probably have enough antibodies in their blood to ward off swine flu AND leprosy.
Outward signs of affection were not the norm in Smock. If you had the courage and moral fortitude to kiss someone, it was probably on the ramp that led from the company store up to Smock Hill. It was conveniently dark and so you could peddle your devil-inspired romance with nary a witness except for the odd cricket or toad.
Parents didn't show any PDA's (public displays of affection) either. Maybe they didn't want to give their children any "ideas"? Well if we were old enough, we pretty well knew that Mom and Dad HAD to do something since we had seven brothers and sisters? But that's why the bedroom door had a lock on it. And no one dared violate the secrecy that was inside without paying dearly.
So why was Valentine's Day so special to me? Many of you who read this know that this was one of the only days of the year that anyone showed me affection. If you know me, you know why. If you don't know me, suffice to say that my parents held a rather dubious honor of being one of the first married couples in Smock to file for a divorce. They were having too much fun hurling insults and shoes at each other. And for many years, I felt that just my existence was a terrible reminder to them of days that would sooner be left forgotten.
But HEY, those days are gone and I'm no worse for the wear. There were other kids from Smock that came from families where the parents weren't exactly Ward and June Cleaver. But you know who you are and your secrets are safe with me.
But we all lived for that day in mid-February when a white envelope would arrive at our desk and the card inside said "Be mine" or "You're the one" or even mention that four-letter "L" word. And you cannot deny that we felt better about ourselves and others in those tense moments when we'd open those envelopes and read the card inside. Maybe they were lies?