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By Staff | Jan 27, 2012

That critical February date is fast arriving, a day which will end with the thrill of victory for some and the agony of defeat for others.

No, I don’t just mean Super Bowl Sunday. What I’m talking about is even more profoundly life-altering: Valentine’s Day!

Valentine’s Day is a challenging holiday for us guys. This is because there is a fine line between what will be perceived as a winning strategy and what will be deemed just plain stupid, and we are given precious little guidance as to which is which.

Like many, I was forced – by municipal educational authorities, no less – to participate in Valentine rituals at a tender age.

I was in third grade when our teacher, Mrs. Mortimer, excitedly announced an upcoming event called Valentine’s Day. Her enthusiasm lead me to believe that this holiday involved some super-fun activity like daylong recess. Recess was my favorite subject.

But, no. Instead, we were instructed to bring a shoebox from home. This was problematical, as most things, including shoes, were handed down in my family.

Plus, shoeboxes were used for organizing important income tax records. This all added up to a dearth of shoeboxes at our place.

A shoebox was eventually scrounged up for me. Mrs. Mortimer then told us that we were to transform our shoeboxes into some sort of mailbox.

I really liked Mrs. Mortimer, so I didn’t report this blatant violation of federal postal regulations.

We were issued construction paper and instructed to bedeck our boxes with Valentine-themed decorations. Said adornments consisted mainly of red or pink hearts that were messily pasted on.

Those of us who were artistically inclined crafted paper hearts that actually looked like hearts. Mine appeared to be a hybrid that was part snowflake, part zeppelin.

Mrs. Mortimer next informed us that we would be required to give a Valentine to each of our classmates. Including the girls?

No! Oh, the humanity.

Our moms duly purchased sheets of punch-out Valentine cards for us. Then came the agonizing process of deciding which card to give to whom.

A guy certainly didn’t want to send anything remotely mushy to another boy. What you were looking for was a metaphorical punch in the shoulder, a card that said “I think that you’re okay, even though you gave me a wedgie yesterday.”

Choosing a card to send to a member of the female species was a conundrum worthy of Solomon. A guy had to not only negotiate the labyrinthine social structure of third grade, he also had to steer clear of sending even the faintest signal that he liked girls.

Nothing was worse than the suspicion that Cupid’s dart had pierced one’s wishbone. This would lead to merciless teasing, hammered home with that shopworn rhyme that mentions sitting in a tree along with marriage and a baby carriage.

I was only 9 years old. How could I support a wife and a baby on my two-bits-per-week allowance?

So the pressure was immense when it came to selecting a Valentine intended for a girl. One had to eschew any variation of the word “love.” The phrase “be mine” was avoided like a fresh cow pie; ditto for the word “Valentine.”

One also had to take great care when choosing the cartoon image on a Valentine card sent to a girl. Puppies and kitties were shunned lest they ignite in her an overpowering nurturing urge, which would invariably lead to a mortgage and the aforementioned baby carriage.

Safe images included such things as astronauts or cowboys or Daniel Boone. These communicated the message “I’m only sending this because you’re a classmate and let’s end it at that.”

A complicating factor was Sweetheart candies. We boys would rather jump into a vat full of salamanders than enclose a Sweetheart candy in our Valentine cards. But we had no control over the girls’ actions.

Many girls included a Sweetheart candy in every card. Some had the courtesy to give boys candies that bore harmless messages such as “smile” or “awesome.”

Particularly thoughtful girls gave boys Sweethearts that said “no way” or “not even if you were the last boy on the face of the planet.”

Any boy who received a Sweetheart that read “hugs”, or worse, “XOXOXO,” would try to avert teasing by immediately consuming the evidence. This is why popular boys had so many cavities. As for me, well, let’s just say that my dentist and I were all but strangers.

Many things have changed since then. For one, I now actually look forward to giving my sweetheart a card on Valentine’s Day.

I just hope she doesn’t mind those punch-out thingies along its edges.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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