by Kathe Campbell
Back in the dark ages when I turned eleven in Ms. Daisy Blogg's classroom, the most wonderful thing happened, I fell in love. It was magical as Buddy O'Toole and I zinged whimsical grins across four rows of sixth grade desks. I was tall for my age and just about as gangly as they come, while Buddy was short and just about as round as they come. But it hardly mattered, for nearly all the boys were shorter than the girls. My mother assured me I was experiencing "puppy love" and that Buddy was just slow shedding his baby fat.
Memories of chocolates and surprises beset my every thought as Valentine's Day drew near. Mother always said that there are chocolates, and then there are chocolates, meaning that few are the Rolls Royce of good candy. Dad haunted the finest specialty shop in town for the best imported chocolate of the day. Heart-shaped red velvet boxes topped with satiny white bows contained layers of unique hand-dipped varieties. And if one should forage between the nuts and chews, they might find a lovely pair of 14 kt. earrings. Ah yes, my dad really knew how to melt her heart, while mother set an elegant Valentine table with dad's favorites, and gifts at each plate.
I could barely wait to hear what our teacher had planned as our tall classroom windows glittered with familiar sweet red angels and assorted hearts. Would we cut and paste tiresome construction paper, add bits of ribbon over paper lace doilies, and exchange the results? Gladly, no. We had made that big step from childhood to upper classmen and could create our own valentines at home, or purchase them at the local five and dime.
"Please bring a decorated container with your name clearly marked on the outside," announced Ms. Blogg. "You will make enough Valentines for every box." How familiar that sounded as I pondered two scruffy and cantankerous boys who still dipped pigtails in inkwells despite the principal's wrath. And, of course, equality prevailed to include our class haughty and mean-spirited girl.
While the ladies fancied Valentine greetings, the sixth grade boys were not as sold on the custom, suddenly all too juvenile, silly and mushy. Regardless, Buddy told me to make sure my container was at least as big as a shoe box, that he had been working on an idea. 'Twould be my first experience on cloud nine.
Walking to school, none of us escaped the cloudburst and squall swirling about the playground as we and our Valentine treasures ran for cover. The swings and trapezes banged and twirled, ensnarling their chains around and around, then a sudden lull while they untangled at breakneck speed.
After placing our wet boxes on the window sills above the radiators, we spent the morning glancing the wrinkled and fading coverings. Ribbons and string hung in limp shambles making strange arrays of bleeding pigments and hues upon all they touched. Nontheless, for the girls the day drug endlessly as we contemplated the party and sharing of our treasures.
As Ms. Blogg read the history of Valentine's Day aloud, a sudden psst, psst, psst, emanated from the radiator. The class broke out in giggles as we watched chocolate drip, drip, dripping from a corner of the big red shoe box marked, "Kathleen." I glanced over at Buddy, but there were no smiles or giggles, just horror written all over his face. He had spent his allowance on the newest Hershey sensation, foil-wrapped chocolate kisses, each pasted meticulously upon a sensational card.
For Buddy, the welcomed three-o'clock bell rang and the class gathered their Valentines under their coats for the drizzly trek home. I caught up with Buddy in the hallway and asked him to meet me across the street at the library. After choosing a corner spot, I set the table with his lovely chocolate-covered card and the knurly candy kisses. We sat and talked until a grin crossed Buddy's chubby cheeks, then finished off the remains of a Valentine box neither of us ever forgot.