Monday, February 14, 2011

of bachelors and buttons, and a doozy of a day

I had a whole lot of things I wanted to say about Valentine's Day.  That my husband hates it. That when I was younger I used to hang my hat on it, hopeful that it would be the day somebody important to my future would fall in love with me and say so. But here's what came out:


A bachelor I had newly met announced one day that Valentine's Day was for amateurs, those klutzy types who don't know how to show they love someone except on the one day of the year when everybody else does. It was not anywhere near Valentine's Day, but I supposed he wanted to be sure that if we were still together by then, I should not expect anything. He announced this right along with the news that he didn't really want children because all they did was scream in grocery stores and restaurants.


Confident, that if I had children with this man I would admonish them not to scream or else I'd get a baby sitter, I forged on into our relationship. Surely though I am a bonafied cry baby who did just that in grocery stores and restaurants as a child, my children wouldn't dare, would they? (For the record, they didn't, or at least not much.) And by Valentine's Day, I would have won his heart so completely that he would come around on that, too.


That first Valentine's together was a doozy. At my sister's wedding the June before, tucked into her bouquet were delicate blue Bachelor's Buttons, so those became my new favorite flower. I mentioned it (in passing, really), so on Feb. 14, the man who would ask me to marry him a month later over a Wendy's Single without cheese, stormed into the newsroom where we both worked, saying "I hope you are happy! Not a single florist in town carries Bachelor's Buttons?" Well. It really was nice that he tried.


For my birthday that year he gave me a pot full of silk violets. Silk. (They were blue, right?) Fresh flowers die and all of that. (I did keep those violets for a lot of years, until our yard started crawling with them and I could pick them myself. But soon, Mr. Valentine was scouring the yard with his spray pump. They are weeds, don't you know?)


I gave up on Valentine's Day after that. All that adolescent love hooey was not for this grown up girl. I understood where he was coming from, that the whole VD thing really was invented by the card and florist industries as an excuse to make money. Still. 


Some years later, my very first newspaper column appeared on Valentine's Day. So of course I wrote about the Bachelor's Buttons, admitting that the man of my dreams did pick some on a Georgia interstate one summer — at the risk of arrest — showing up at our house, wilted bouquet in hand. Which of course melted me right there. And that though he spent our 15th wedding anniversary in Paris, Paris! (I was home delousing our daughter's hair)... at 11:30 a.m. — the same time as our wedding — the doorbell rang, and there was a delivery guy holding a box of flowers. A box. Remember those? So Hollywood. 


I opened it, distracted from my lousy mission, and found a dozen beautiful BBs hidden deep within the bouquet of iris and whatnot. Paris? Who cared? This man knew me right to the calloused corners of my heart. But that was our anniversary, a day when he has to come through with something thoughtful. Though this was way better than I could have imagined myself, which is hard to do. And I couldn't even thank him appropriately, because I couldn't afford the overseas phone call.


But back to VD. The morning of that first column, as I backed out of the driveway, I spied something blue in the yard. Closer inspection revealed a giant BB, silk, tucked near my front door. By giant I mean a full foot across the flower face. Jack and his beanstalk couldn't have grown bigger.


"I know better than to give you silk flowers," Mr. Valentine said when questioned. "Especially when it might end up in the newspaper."


I was sure I had a secret admirer, someone who hung carefully on my every word. It took weeks of sleuthing to discover that the flower actually came from a male friend who had recently come out of the closet. I have it, still, as a reminder that you never know how thoughtful your words might cause people to be.


I don't ask for BBs anymore, on Valentine's Day or otherwise. Peonies and hydrangeas are my favorites now. Though every year or so Mr. Valentine will bring me a handful those pretty little blue things, provisioned on a summer day from a country roadside nobody cares to police. 


I think, after almost 30 years of living with this man, that he is softening his views on flower power, and maybe on valentines, too. This morning as I headed out to work, I found he had left me something. Tulips, white ones — pink or red would be too valentiney, I can hear him say. And way to amateur.