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My Unforgettable Valentine

By Carrillee Collins Burke


I will love you as long as these birds have wings.”

The message was printed in pencil on a small piece of lined note paper and signed, Curtis.

It was a jewelry pin of two celluloid birds, one glued on top the other. They were cream colored with a red line on the bottom edge of the top bird’s wings. The wings were about two inches across and each wing was attached to its body with a clear glue and a fastener was glued to the bottom.

It was Valentine’s Day,  at our three-class, two-room country school and our classes valentinepin21exchanged Valentines. Several inches of snow covered the ground, but the room was warm from a pot belly stove and our high anticipation.

My heart fluttered, as only an eleven-year-old girl’s heart could, when I received the big heart-shaped envelope cut from two sheets of red construction paper stuck together at the edges with minty-smelling white glue, not yet completely dry. The bird pin was placed inside. I was excited beyond words when I realized it was from Curtis.

Curtis was so cute. His dark hair was straight and always cut short by his mother and parted neatly to the left. He had a cowlick in the front which lifted into a half curl. I wanted to wet my fingers and smooth it flat, the way my mother smoothed my brother’s hair. But, of course, I couldn’t do that. He and I never had a real conversation, if I remember correctly, even though we spent a lot of time together during recesses: swinging on the grapevine attached to an old oak tree that stood in the school yard, and skating on the nearby frozen creek in wintertime.

When he was captain of a team sport, he always chose me first. We hung together like two peas in a pod, but, like I said, we never did much talking. Whenever I would wear the pin on my sweater or coat, he would smile, letting me know he recognized it and that we had this secret between us.

We graduated from elementary school (6th grade) in the spring and in September I rode a yellow school bus to Junior High in the city. Three years were spent at that school where I met and made many new friends, but Curtis was not there. In those years and through summer breaks, Curtis was not uppermost in my mind; neither was the little pin of two celluloid birds glued together in a flying position. The pin nested in a small music box with a pink clad ballerina twirling round and round when opened. Over those years, I had almost forgotten him and the little pin he had given me.

Then, on a cool foggy morning in 1949, I started my first day of high school. Students were coming and going in the school auditorium and I was given directions to my homeroom and a schedule of my classes and room numbers. I was separated from most of my friends, but surprised to find an old one.

On the first day of my American History class I was seated across the isle from my long ago friend, Curtis.

Would we be friends again or had he forgotten me? I thought.

He reached across the isle, touched me on the arm, smiled, and said, “Hi.”

I answered with the first thought that entered my head. “Where have you been?”

“My dad is in the Air Force and wanted the family to join him. But now we’re all back, for awhile, anyway.” Then added, “I like your bangs and the length of your hair. You look nice.”

I said, “Thank you.” My heart danced a jig and laughed all day. Class was called to order and attendance taken. All were attentive to the voice of the teacher, except Curtis and me who kept exchanging smug glances at each other. But we were no longer little kids; we were now fifteen-year-old adults.

Curtis was still the quiet young man I knew. He still was not much for talking when we sat together eating our packed lunches, or sharing a Coke on the back steps of the school building, or eating under the huge elm tree by the music room. I didn’t know what selectives he took, but I knew he sneaked into the metal and woodworking shop to make himself a stainless steel bracelet out of discarded scraps. It was an inch or so wide with his name stamped across the top. I thought it was a neat piece of jewelry and told him so when I saw it on his wrist.  He smiled and said, “You really like it?”

I whispered, “I do.”

The thought that we were nearing Valentine’s Day never entered my mind, even though we  girls were supposed to think about love and gifts on that day. Curtis remembered he had given me the bird pin on Valentine’s Day years ago and asked if they still had their wings.

“Can they still fly?” he asked.

“Of course,” I answered.

On February 14, I wore the birds in a flying position on my red sweater. Hoping he would acknowledge it. After we were seated in class, he noticed. Then he said, “I have something else for you.”  He reached in his pant pocket and brought out a stainless steel band with “Carrillee” engraved across the top and a tiny red heart under the last letter in my name.

I blushed, and was breathless when I whispered, “Thank you. I love it.” I slid it on my wrist and he squeezed it to make a snug fit. I wore that bracelet a lot during my sophomore year. Then Curtis moved again during junior year. He promised to write, but he never did.

Years later, I ran into his aunt while shopping. I asked about Curtis. She told me he’d joined the Air Force right out of school and was killed in Korea, leaving a wife and a baby girl in California. We talked awhile and then said goodbye. Suddenly, a deep sadness engulfed me and  darkened my sweet memory of Curtis.

Over time, I misplaced the bracelet, the construction paper heart envelope, and the message that was in it. However, after sixty-three years, I still have the bird pin that he gave to me. It nests in my jewelry box, and the memory of a boy named Curtis rests forever in my heart.

*****

Ban The Box

By Sue Blue

This year, after a bit of reflection, I went in search of the answer to the question: how did Valentine’s Day begin? Who started this frenzy of flowers and candy and cards? Florists , card shops , jewelers, fudge makers and boudoir boutiques  jump for joy and spend great sums on advertising the coming event. This will be their day to cash in and celebrate. Pity the poor husband that shows up at his front door without the obligatory dozen red roses in hand on Valentine’s Day. He’ll spend the evening with the puppy on the sofa. No longer does the young lover just look in his sweetheart’s eyes and say softly “I love you”. The declaration must be accompanied by at least a ten pound box of her favorite bonbons. How did this state of affairs come about?

stvalentineLegend has it that St. Valentine became the patron saint of lovers after defying a mean old Roman Emperor , Claudius II. Claudius II was so mean he was called Claudius the Cruel. One of the most cruel things Claudius did was outlaw engagements and marriages because he was having trouble getting young men to join his military leagues. He blamed this problem on love; the would-be soldiers did not want to leave their sweethearts. The priest, Valentine, ignored this edict and continued to secretly marry the couples. When he was apprehended he was clubbed to death and had his head cut off on the 14th day of February, 260 A.D. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

Well, no, now wait a minute. How did this obsession with St. Valentine’s Day get to the United States? Blame it on a girl from Worcester, MA. Miss Esther Howland began making lacy Valentines after graduating from Mount Holyoke College in 1847.  The cards were so popular she had to recruit helpers.  When she retired and sold her business in 1881 she was making $100,000 annually! In those days that was a ton of money and the beginning of St. Valentine’s partnership with crass commercialism.

Do grade school students still cover card board boxes with white tissue paper, paste red hearts all around and place them in a prominent position on the teacher’s desk at the front of the classroom? If they do, I object. Let the kids march around in their devil Halloween costumes and trim Christmas trees but cut out this hearts and flowers routine. That whole Valentine business is a perfect set up for a total loss of self-esteem. Take it from some one who knows.

We were in the 4th grade when Jamie and I became boy and girl friend. We had been paired up by a music teacher to lead a school dance routine. From that time on his grandmother, a splendidly erect lady who constantly wore a black velvet hat perched primly on her tightly coifed silver curls, drove us to the downtown movie theatre every Saturday morning where we viewed the latest Gene Autry or Hopalong Cassidy cowboy episode. I didn’t care much for these “horse operas” but I never let Jamie know that. Just being asked to go was a step up in the grade school hierarchy. Jamie was cute.

We were now in 6th grade and it was Valentine’s Day. A new girl had arrived at school just after Christmas.  She’d caused quite a stir. Her name was Glorianna and she was from California. She had very blonde hair and dimples. Rumor had it that she had been in an Our Gang movie. I, personally, didn’t think that was true. I had never seen a very blonde girl in an Our Gang movie. Anyway, it was Valentine’s Day. The cards were going to be drawn from the box after lunch.

As our class headed to the cafeteria Jamie walked up to me and said, “Sorry, I can’t give you a Valentine card this year. I didn’t have any money left after I bought one for Glorianna!” I was stunned. I said something like “Oh, that’s OK” as he turned and strutted out of the room.

Timmy, the class hellion, heard this.  He went home for lunch because he lived nearby. What Jamie had said evidently made him really mad. When the Valentine distribution began I was quite surprised to hear my name called. Then my name was called again and again and again. All of these cards were signed in Timmy’s scrawl, “Guess who”. I guess he’d picked up a box of “penny” cards during the lunch hour.

Timmy had only the best intentions, I know, but he’d only made things worse. The kids started laughing because almost every name that was called was mine and I had to keep going up to the front of the room to collect those little penny cards. I’d been hurt by Jamie and now I was embarrassed.  Valentine’s Day was humiliating.

I’ve managed to live through many Valentine Days since. I’ve received many very lovely cards and wonderful gifts. It’s funny though, the one card that I remember after all of these years is the one I didn’t get.

*****

Memories On Ice

By Daniel D. Johnson

Winters in South Dakota are brutal; there is no denying it. It is Mother Nature’s way of expressing herself through transition. With every new season comes a change of lifestyle; and the polar express arrived with a silver lining. As a kid growing up in the glacial lakes region, I acclimated to winter parallel to the Eskimo. Simply don more layers of clothing.

With the bitter cold came promises of ice fishing. A solitary hole prepare by an ice pick was reason enough to bring Dad and I closer together, huddled next to a Coleman heater. Amidst the sound of chattering teeth, those moments of anticipation would be worth it, when we lowered our fishing lines into the frigid waters below.

How could I forget those nostalgic days of sledding down Mellette hill or attempting to pull my mother (who was twice my weight) back up the hill. That solitary highland was the only one that existed in that community of 10,000 souls. The city leaders agreed to build a hospital on that hill across the street from the school I attended. Perhaps their intuition was on the money. What kid isn’t injured at school or sledding?

My reflections however, were focused on the new pair of skates I received at Christmas. Is there an eight year old who doesn’t tear open his present in a moment of exhilaration, while dreaming of its contents? All I remember is the excitement of finally owning my own pair and never having to borrow again. To my surprise, they fit like a glove. My dad promised that our family would visit the pond soon and my Uncle Jim would impart his knowledge of skating lessons. Comparable to an unfinished portrait, time seemed to stand still on the frozen tundra. Sunrises and sunsets blended together when perilous snowstorms raged across our homeland. The moment I had hoped for and dreamed of, was on the horizon.

It was a picture perfect winters day, reminiscent of a Currier and Ives lithograph. The Arctic chill served as the key ingredient for freezing the pond at the park. The temperature had maintained a below zero reading for a fortnight, paving the way for a safe afternoon of skating. It was time for the community to come together and show what class we had as amateurs. The National Skating champions of that era were David Jenkins and Carol Heiss, back when Kristi Yamaguchi was just a twinkle in her mother’s eye. Although not as famous, my uncle skated professionally, winning many trophies. He was instrumental in teaching me balance and technique; forget artistic style.

This memorable ice pond was located in a unique park setting, surrounded by a grove of cottonwood trees. Nestled in the northeast sector was a miniature zoo, housing animals native to the state. This solitary attraction was popular with families, giving them a variety of outside activities in an otherwise hostile winter environment.

With the wind stinging my face, I skated until my fingers transformed into Popsicles stuffed inside my glove. The suns warm rays commingled as they clashed with the wind chill which eventually won the battle. Body aches from the numerous nosedives I incurred, finally convinced me I had had enough for one day. Everyone in our group was in agreement. It was time to go home and thaw out, while enjoying a cup of hot cocoa.

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