Yesterday's Magazette

7 – Plain And Simple Hearts


By Madonna Dries Christensen

When I was a child in the 1940s, Iowa’s grueling winters seemed endless. Valentine’s Day broke the monotony of the wait for spring. As soon as the Valentine cards appeared in the window of the Ben Franklin Five-and-Dime, my sister and I hurried in to make our selections.

Back home, we sorted through our cards, choosing the appropriate verse for the teacher and for each classmate. We were careful about the messages on the cards for boys. Valentine Greetings was safe, but Please Be Mine would give a geeky boy the impression we liked him.

When I was in fifth grade, I came home from school one day and Ma greeted me with this announcement, “I got a bargain on Valentines. This big package for only a dollar.”

That she had chosen our cards was bad enough, but when I saw them I knew this year’s Valentine’s Day was ruined. The cards had no lacy frills, no lollipops stuck in slots, no crinkly hearts that unfolded when you opened the card, no Cupids aiming arrows. There were no messages such as: My love is great, my heart is true, and both I offer now to you. The bargain package contained plain construction paper hearts, perhaps a hundred of them, each about three inches in diameter. “They’re simple, but pretty,” Ma offered.

I knew enough not to voice my thought: Yeah, simply awful and pretty dreadful. In our family, economy came first. I threatened to not take any of the plain red hearts to school, but not taking cards would have been more humiliating. I pouted as Valentine’s Day drew closer. Ma suggested pasting the hearts onto lacy white paper doilies, or adding pictures of flowers or birds cut from magazines. I wrinkled my nose. That would make them look even more homemade. Reluctantly, I addressed the hearts, one to each classmate, one for the teacher, and laid them aside. The next morning I sulked off to school and deposited my pitiful offerings in the decorated box by the window.

For the holiday party, Miss Klein brought heart-shaped cookies, and we had chocolate milk instead of white. When Miss Klein asked who would like to be postmen (one girl and one boy), I didn’t raise my hand. I didn’t want to hand deliver my lowly declarations of friendship. Then I worried that, because the hearts were small and had no envelopes, they might have fallen to the bottom of the box and would go unnoticed by the postmen. It would be awful if that happened and the kids thought I hadn’t brought any Valentines at all.

Not to worry, the plain red hearts began showing up among the fancy cards accumulating on desks. Chatter and laughter filled the room as children read verses aloud and teased one another about secret pals and boyfriends and girlfriends. I gave a perfunctory glance at the cards I’d received.

When the dismissal bell rang, I gathered up my cards. As I walked to the door, a red-haired, freckled-faced boy stopped me and said, “Your Valentine was the best one I got.”

Taken by surprise, I shyly thanked Fred. I wondered if he had sensed my feelings about the plain red hearts and was only being polite. Or, did he like me?

I hurried home, eager to read my cards and see what the message on my Valentine from Fred would reveal.


*Madonna Christensen is the author of Swinging Sisters and Masquerade: The Swindler Who Conned J. Edgar Hoover.

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