Valentine Memories
by Helen Nolden

February 17, 1999

I’ve always thought of February as the tug-of-war month between the Presidents and the Messenger of Love.

When I was a child, we celebrated the President’s birthdays with programs in the afternoon. There was, usually, the re-enactment of the “I Cannot Tell a Lie” with some young boy holding a paper axe in his hands threatening a very sick looking paper-made cherry tree. There was an enactment of the “Crossing of the Delaware” and a very sad scene at “ Valley Forge”. I resented some of those plays because the boys always got the leading rolls. Sometimes we would have Betsy Ross in one of the skits. I was never chosen for that. I recall Betty Shook making a real nice Betsy Ross.

On Lincoln’s birthday we drew and colored his log cabin in the woods. There would be a scene of Abe studying by candlelight before a fireplace. Then someone would wear a black suit, wearing a top hot as he recited the Gettysburg Address. I remember giving the Gettysburg Address at Declamation in Rugby. That must have been 100 years ago! I won second place because the judges didn’t think a girl was as effective doing that particular address. It is strange, but even after 60 years, it still makes me angry.

There were other famous birthdays such as Charles Lindberg, Thomas Edison, and Babe Ruth. We would go over their lives rather lightly. Then we had a “Remember the Maine” about the ship that was blown up in Havana Harbor.

Ground Hog Day was on the second of February. That was dealt with lightly, too. We did color the little critter and see if we could tell if winter was over or whether we would have six more weeks of cold.

But the big celebration for the children was Valentine’s Day. I was in first grade, during the Depression. Most of us were poor. There was a period then when my father was earning 45 cents an hour with five children at home. So, we didn’t run to the store for valentines.

We spent weeks ahead making our own. Some of the Children were very creative. Some of us used wallpaper catalogs to make our precious cards. The fancy colored designs turned out nice. We worked hard because these valentines were going to our special friends and to our teacher.

I still have a box of valentines from way back when I was in grade school. There are names like Art Schmidt, Jeanne Decker, Maxine Pfeifle, Eddie Fiest, Nick Weninger, Leona Priester, Johnny Schmaltz and so many others. I think when a person saves little things from the past, they become memory chasers. I only need to go through the box to remember all my friends. There are stories with each friend.

Our teachers would find a nice sturdy box that was trimmed by all the children. So many little hands, I don’t know how we did it. But it seemed as if we had the most beautiful box to hold all our precious valentines. It didn’t seem to matter if a few pieces of crepe paper came loose or had extra paste on it or, maybe, some of it was more crumpled than needed to be. We thought it was okay.

Some of my teachers back then were Frances Burns, Miss Cudd, Esther Winterfeld, and Margaret Stevens. I loved all of them.

A child was chosen to hand out the valentines as we all sat at our desks. I remember a lot of teasing and blushing, mostly among the boys!

We had a little lunch and candy. Then we got ready to take our treasures home. But not before we had all put our names on pieces of paper that were dropped into a hat. The teacher would draw a name of the child who got to take the valentine box home. How proud the winner was.

My fifth and sixth grade teacher, Margaret Stevens, gave me this little rhyme to remember the number of days each month has. I have never forgotten it.

Thirty days has September,
April, June and November.
All the rest have thirty-one
Excepting February alone
Which has but twenty-eight in fine
Till Leap Year gives it twenty-nine.

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