Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

February 14, 2013

Holiday evolves from class fun to catty

— — Love the holiday or hate it, most of the people in my generation remember every February in elementary school when the teacher would commission the class to bring in a shoe box to decorate for the annual exchanging of classroom Valentine’s cards.

Usually, the boys would groan and grimace, trying to somehow incorporate their favorite sports hero or a race car onto their box while we girls were perfectly happy to decorate with the lace-patterned doilies, sparkly red hearts and glitter. Some kids with artistic inclinations or parents not willing to chuck out the bucks would make hand-made cards while the rest of us would go to the local grocery store and pick out whatever Disney, cartoon or movie themed, 2-by-6 inch cards the store had on sale. Attach a Hershey’s kiss or lollipop to it and viola, instant Valentine.

The day of or the day closest to the holiday, the decorated shoe boxes would be set up on desks and students would go around plunking their cards into others’ boxes. There was the rule that you had to get at least one Valentine for everyone in the class so no one got left out. Of course, we sneaky kids always found a way of giving our least impressive cards to the classmates we didn’t like while the best cards and candy were reserved for our closest friends and crushes.

Those were the fun days before middle-school cattiness took over the holiday, making it feel more of a contest for who got the most flowers and candy grahams than the innocent class party is was when we were younger.

•••

Being a sixth-grade girl is hard enough without the added pressure of the school’s student council selling carnations and candy for Valentine’s Day. Sure, the whole thing probably started as an innocent fundraiser, but put about 200 girls between the ages of 10 and 13 together in a building and it suddenly becomes a contest for who can get the cutest boy to send them a $5 flower.

Our elementary school was a K-8 school, unlike most in the county, and so as a sixth grader I shared the school with my little brother, who was in first grade. The older kids were kept in a separate hallway and had separate lunch times, but we would still run into each other in the hallways, the gym, outside on the playground and the school library. I don’t know if back then my brother thought it was cool or a pain to have a big sister in the school with him, but I do know there was a certain reverence the younger kids had for older kids.

Being the big sister I was, I chucked out my money and sent my brother one of the flower grahams. It was a nice thing to do and for a good cause. I wasn’t really thinking about whether or not I would receive one of my own, but as the date of delivery grew closer, it became more nerve-wracking listening to the other girls at lunch talk about who they may or may not have sent one too and who they were expecting one from. I never realized how powerful those chalky candy hearts were until that point.

When the big day came, student council members delivered the flowers and candy to classrooms all over the school. When the student left my homeroom I was stunned and admittedly a little heartbroken to find out I was the only girl in my entire classroom who hadn’t been sent something. Sure, plenty of the kids had gotten stuff from friends, siblings and parents who had stopped by rather than sweethearts, but it stung a little bit to be the only girl without a flimsy carnation on her desk.

When the end of the day came, I trudged out to the van where my mother was waiting to pick up my brother and me. She noticed I was a little bummed, but before she could ask me why, my little brother came up all excited, his flower in hand. He had been the only person in his class to get a flower, which had  been a pretty big deal for a first grader. Mom asked me if I had gotten anything and, I admit, I burst into tears.

The next day, I came home to find my mother had bought an entire vase of carnations and placed them at my place at the dining room table.

•••

Last week, I had the privilege of talking with the mother of 4-year-old McKenzie Gibson, a Princeton resident who will be spending her Valentine’s Day in Cincinnati Children’s Hospital where her daughter is battling a rare blood disorder. McKenzie will be getting a life-saving bone marrow donation from her sister, something that really shows the true extent of love for another person.

In the meantime, McKenzie’s family is hoping to give her a Valentine’s Day filled with love by decorating her hospital room with cards and well wishes from the folks back home. Love is one of those few healing properties everyone can take part in, and anyone wishing to send a little love to McKenzie can do so by mailing a card to Valentines for McKenzie, 246 Pilot St., Princeton, WV, 24740.

Kate Coil is a reporter for the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at kcoil@bdtonline.com

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