I will never see a Valentine’s Day card without thinking of my grandmother — Maw Maw to us grandkids. When my father and his sisters were cleaning out my grandmother’s house after a stroke required that she move to a nursing home, they came across shoe boxes full of cards and letters. By the time I got to Charlotte, my dad said that they had already thrown away bags full of old Christmas cards, but he had taken a box of cards and letters to his house and invited me to go through them and take out any that were mine that I wanted to keep.
After my dad went to bed, I spent over an hour going through that box. As I came across cards and letters that I had written when I was in high school and college I could not hold back the tears. It was touching to me that she had held on to all of them. I doubt that she ever went back through and read them, but rather, I think she just found it impossible to throw them away. I inherited that from her. I have boxes of cards and letters that have been sent to me over the years, and have only recently begun purging them. I wish I had also inherited my grandmother’s housekeeping genes. One of the reasons I was surprised she had held on to the cards and letters was because she lived in a two bedroom, one bath house that was always immaculate. I just couldn’t imagine where she had the room to keep them. I guess we always find room for the things that are important to us.
I found lots of gems in that box of correspondence. Some of the most interesting cards were the ones from many, many years ago. There were postcards that had to have been from the fifties and sixties sent to her and my grandfather from vacation sites. Several were actually a little suggestive, and some of the cartoons would surely have been considered naughty, in those days, especially. The artwork on some of the old cards was just beautiful and it was impossible not to try to imagine living in the various eras the cards represented. As I sifted through the cards and letters written to my grandparents from the different periods of my life, I read things that I had long forgotten about high school and college and early in my work life.
The most interesting and moving to me, though, were the Valentine cards that she had kept. They were the small, flat children’s Valentines you bought in a box of 30 or so. They were dated by their old-timey artwork featuring hearts and Cupid with bow and arrow, so unlike the shiny foil embossed Disney Princess, Dora the Explorer, Lizzie McGuire and other media-inspired Valentines I have purchased for my kids. They had been carefully placed back in their tiny square envelopes and the glue on the flaps had yellowed with age. The names of those the Valentines were “to” and “from” were obviously written by me and my cousins in our best printing with those big, fat pencils that make really thick letters. They took me back to a time in my childhood that is so long ago that the memories consist mainly of flashes of still pictures, rather than long movies in my mind, Looking through that box, though, many memories did come back, that otherwise might have been gone forever.
It was a sad time, emptying my grandmother’s house, but those cards and letters, along with some old children’s books that we read when we visited, and a very old Candyland board game we had played over and over again, brought back some incredibly happy memories that I will cherish forever.
Looking through that old correspondence also made me realize how rare it is that I write letters or even send cards anymore. With kids now, it is just so much easier, and cheaper, to use email. My sister is incredibly thoughtful. Over the weekend she sent not only my husband and me a funny Valentine’s Day card, but sent my children cards addressed and mailed to each separately. I was doing good to buy boxes of Valentine’s for my kids to address and pass out at their school parties. So consider this my Valentine’s Day card.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
[The post above was written and originally posted on Valentine’s Day 2005.]
Update: Check out Modern Love, American Style at The American Thinker.
The Anchoress has a pretty amazing Valentine’s Day roundup.