I can't be absolutely sure of this, but I think my very first valentine card probably came from my father. When I was at boarding school he sent me one with a thick, embossed heart on it, signed it "love, Daddy" and drew a heart made out of kisses. He and my mother had been separated for some years and he was about to marry someone else, a woman only thirteen years older than I was. So this gesture, these tokens, were particularly good things, and I did love him dearly. But even I could see that it might have been more to my credit, in the eyes of my peers, had the card been from some anonymous admirer, albeit I was only eleven years old. In the classroom, valentines were left under the lids of the wooden desks, or ostentatiously lying on the top. I had two: one from a boy in the class who was sweet on me (he put his initials in the corner so I would know) and one from the class teacher, a dotty, good-hearted woman who had an eye out for anyone who might possibly be left out, and I was clearly a possible candidate. She drew it herself and composed a verse where each line had a letter from my name. This was a Steiner school, remember. Friends wrote in each others' autograph books, things like:
An elephant never forgets, they say,
And neither do I on St. Valentine's Day.
Enemies (or sophisticated kids who knew how to spar and banter) left anonymous scraps saying:
Roses are red, violets are blue,
And when it rains I think of you:
Drip! Drip! Drip!
Thankfully, I did not receive anything like this, but the words etched themselves into my consciousness and I later used it in a story I wrote. The thought of anyone actually receiving a message like this was, at the time, too much for me to fully digest - someone coming to their desk hoping for words that suggested, however obliquely, at love, friendship, some good quality in oneself revealed, celebrated, and finding instead: Drip! Drip! Drip!
Here on the edge, every restaurant, inn, pub and, actually, anywhere that sells anything, is screaming at us to remember Valentine's Day, just as they will be screaming about Mother's Day, Father's Day, not to mention the ancient festivals that still figure, somehow, in our calendars. We will be reminded to buy cards, chocolates, flowers, wine, treats. Of course anyone with sense and sensibility knows it for what it is. But even so, it is possible to reclaim something - to have our special days and small festivals. I did, as it happens, get a card for Mr. Signs, an image of two birds on a telephone line (they looked like the blue tits that come and lodge in our bird house every spring), and I left this with a bowl of fruit salad for him to find in the morning before he went to Shrink-school. He drew a red heart on an orange background with chalk pastels and wrote a verse about difficult choices (bathroom taps, kitchen tiles) versus easy ones (being with me). It kind of works, you'll just have to take my word for it.