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"BEE" my Valentine
by Amy Kenneley

Red was the color of February at Woolworth's 5 & 10 cent store. Padded, heart-shaped boxes of hopeful chocolates, stacks of be-ribboned, flamboyant cards with puffy sentiments held important spots by the front door.

I needed the less expensive section, where paper cutout valentine books were displayed. Just like the paper dolls that had helped to while away a rainy day, the valentine books were the old fashioned version of "cut and paste"-a hodge-podge of clever phrases and colorful graphics squeezed onto cardstock pages.

At the end of the book on really, really thin pages were the envelope outlines, meant to be scissored out, trimmed, folded on the appropriate dotted lines, and pasted into envelope-ready containers to enclose the matching valentine. Each valentine, carefully done up, would be inscribed carefully with Laddie pencil to friends and sweethearts-- Or in my case, sweetheart singular.

It was Charles Patterson who held my third grade self in thrall. Does tall, dark and handsome describe my classmate adequately? He was so very tall, at least 5 feet. His hair was a muddy brown, a home-styled haircut tight over his ears, with a sportive cowlick poking up on the back. His complexion was a ruddy, scrubbed one. His brown eyes stared down at his desk, barely interacting with anyone in class, much less Miss Crawford, our teacher.

Never a word did he ever speak to me, nor I to him. But that would change, I was sure, when Valentine's Day came around.

Unlike most of the boys of that era, he dressed formally. No harlequin-patterned sweater for him, or brown corduroy pants talking while walking…scutcha, scutcha, scutcha. My bashful Charlie seemed to have an endless supply of flannel checked shirts, men's suit pants, and long, wide ties. He flaunted the sartorial codes of most boys, jumping immediately into men's wear.

Cut, Paste, and Lick

Hurrying home, I spent the next few hours with scissors and youthful imaginings. Which Valentine deserved to be put on Charlie's desk? Was it the silly bumblebee with hive, asking to "bee mine?"

Was it the lumberjack tripping over the log-"I've Fallen for You?" The little cupid, bow in chubby hand, smirked: "You Hit My Heart." I considered my possibilities while getting the Lepage's paste ready. This was the new brand of paste. The old style had come with a little stick. With the stick you had to dig out a clump of paste and smear it, butter-like, on the item to be pasted.

This new container had a pencil-stub sized protuberance sticking up on the metal lid. When the lid was twisted off, it was revealed that a black bristled brush was at the end. Cap, holder and brush for pasting, all in one.

Ugh, though. The metal lid was stuck. Crusty bits of dried paste crinkled and fell as the tug of war between me and the paste jar continued. With a little bath under warm water in the sink, a mighty wrench accompanied with more ugh-ughs, the lid released its hold on the jar.

The lid was now off, and so, too, was the attached brush. Only the stick and lid remained intact. The black bristles were left behind, like some miniature porcupine stuck in a circle of pond ice. Poking with my finger, I was relieved to find that beneath the crust of dried paste-with-bristles there was just enough gunk left to seal my envelopes. And so I set to it, using the handiest tool available-- my index finger.

Delivery Day

Paste is definitely not on the favorite taste list. Nevertheless, between alternate spreading of goo along folds and forgetful lickings from my finger, the valentines were completed. The Hough Bakery bag (only a little used with a few crumbs at the bottom) was a suitable means of carrying my valentines to school the next day.

Miss Crawford had allowed some time after morning recess for everyone in class to deliver their valentines to classmates' desks. Everyone walked up and down the classroom aisles.

Timidly, I set out. I had penciled my best cursive writing of each classmate's name. As I approached HIS desk, I noticed that he already had been left some pretty snazzy valentines. Some with much better cursive writing, some with much less paste along edges. I set mine down in the middle of the desk and moved on. I wondered if he would guess who had given it to him?

Oh, that horrible indecisiveness , that push-pull of desire to be recognized and fear of being revealed! I had, at the last minute, waffled on my undying declaration. I had written To: Charles and From: Me.

Half hopeful he would see who had set down the Valentine, wishing he would consider the inside sentiment "Here's My Heart" as my undying declaration of devotion, I watched from the corner of my eye while playing postman with my valentines. HE had stopped by my desk! HE had reached into his pocket! HE had put something on my desk!

Dashed

With never a look in my direction, my sometime Romeo sat down at his own desk, staring at his own valentines, putting them into his metal Roy Rogers lunchbox without a glance. He must be savoring the moment when he could open my valentine, alone, in his own house, and ponder on my very special, paste-laden one.

Oh, Charles Patterson, where are you today? You vanished from school the following year. Where did you move, where did you go, with your ties with palm trees and mermaids on them? Did you grow into men's trousers finally? Did you know who "me" was?

I trudged home from school that day, my crumpled valentines and crumpled hopes stuffed into the Hough Bakery bag. Charles had delivered to everyone in the class the very same "valentine" as he had put on my desk: candy hearts-- a tasteless, crunchy tidbit with "wow" squeezed on its teeny face.

Reaching into my white bakery bag, I picked it out. It was finger-sticky. It had pocket lint stuck to "wow." With a sigh, I dropped it on the sidewalk and walked home.



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