Valentine’s Day, like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Halloween was one of those neat, fun-stuff-to-do holidays when you are in elementary school because you got to get out of a few hours of class to make decorations and do whatever observance that was associated with the holiday.
In other words, it was a chance to screw off, make a mess, and in the end, have a party.
In preparation for any of these holidays and other observances that fell during the school year, teachers would set aside some class time, usually during art class for the students to make decorations. Not all grades were the same though and some teachers were just better than others when it came to preparing for and eventually celebrating holidays.
At Washington Grade School in Oglesby, Illinois Mrs. Sayers’ Third Grade was by far the best grade for celebrating Valentine’s Day. Kids in the Fourth and Fifth Grades raved about her Valentine’s Day party the same way they raved about Sixth Grade where the teacher taught the kids Spanish and had all kinds of cool Mexican Heritage observances.
After Mrs. Sayers’ successful Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas celebrations, when we came back to school after our Christmas/New Years’ break, we were all looking forward to Valentine’s Day. In between we would celebrate George Washington and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays on their actual birthday and not some special President’s Day for people to get a three-day weekend.
A few weeks before Valentine’s Day, Mrs. Sayers would break out the red, white, and pink construction paper, Elmer’s Glue, and craft scissors (the kind with the blunt ends so we couldn’t stab ourselves) and we would set out to make various decorations for our classroom. Most important were the “bags” we would construct (actually they were small, yet heavy duty grocery bags that we would cover with red construction paper) and then embellish with hearts, lace, and our names where our Valentine’s Day cards would be surreptitiously deposited in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day (more about these cards later).
Some students were natural born artists when it came to making pretty much anything from construction paper. Nothing seemed out their constructive construction paper reach. On other hand, I was one of the students who was more apt at deconstruction and no matter how easy the project was, I always ended up with bits of paper glued to my fingers and the final project looking nothing like the model we were supposed to make.
I had a heck of a time making the red and pink hearts that would embellish the bags. For anyone who has ever had to make a heart out of construction paper, the process is quite simple. First, you fold a sheet of the paper in half and then you draw half a heart along the fold. Next, you carefully cut that half of the heart and when you unfolded the paper you would have a perfect heart.
Well, not exactly in my case. Mine always seemed lopsided and uneven. After a few unsuccessful tries with my less than desirable construction paper/cutting skills I found out that the perfect way to mend a broken, albeit lopsided heart was to ask Mrs. Sayers, who had the patience of a saint and the cutting skills of a surgeon for assistance.
While a few of us struggled with our Valentine’s Day bags, those students who had already finished their bags, which were now proudly hanging from one wall, got to make decorations for the room. These were usually the same kids time and time again and were the envy of those of us who gave new meaning to the expression, “all thumbs.”
Once all the Valentine’s Day bags had been finished (mine was easy to spot: it was the one with the lopsided pink heart) and were hanging from the wall and classroom decorated, our work, at least for now was done. Now, we would have to go out to buy our Valentine’s Day cards and distribute them in the bags.
In Oglesby the best place and in fact, the only place to buy our cards was at the Ben Franklin dime store. They came in various assortments and sizes and could set you back a dollar or two. Once you had the cards it was just a matter of signing them and maybe saying something sweet and kind-proportionate of course to how much you liked the person.
In the Third Grade we were not too young to know the intricacies of what it meant to be popular; when the contents of those Valentine’s Day bags were poured out onto desks on Valentine’s Day it was easy to see who was popular and who was not by the number of cards a student had received. Mrs. Sayers liked a level and fair playing field a student could always count on a card from her but a teacher’s card didn’t really count and nor did one from Betty F. whose mother worked at the Ben Franklin and got a discount on those cards.
I did okay come Valentine’s Day and the number of cards I got, though I think some were mercy cards from classmates whose parents (probably leading members of the PTA) made their kids give a card to all their classmates. Obviously, the popularity contest extended to outside the classroom.
All the hard work that went into making our Valentine’s Day bags and decorations as well as writing out all those cards all came together on Valentine’s Day with a small party and enough sugar to tide us over until Halloween. Mrs. Sayers was famous for her cherry cupcakes and other students brought various baked goods to class in addition to candy-especially those tiny candy hearts. So while we stuffed our mouths and bellies with cupcakes, cookies, and candy we read our cards. And found out just how much we were liked by our classmates.
I might have been too young to understand the complexities of what it meant to “have a crush” on someone, though I was pretty sure that was what I had with Valerie Schallhorn in First Grade and the first part of Second Grade at Cherry Grade School in Cherry, Illinois. Now, I think I was about to have a crush on another girl and my first one at Washington since transferring here mid way through Second Grade. One of the first cards I read, as I chewed one of Mrs. Sayers’ heavenly delicious cupcakes, came with the message (in what was easily discernible as girl’s handwriting) “Be my Valentine. I think you are funny and cute” and signed Janie.
Janie sat in the first row in the front (Mrs. Sayers had us seated alphabetically) and was talking to a girl sitting across from her, but when she saw me looking over at her she smiled.
Be my Valentine, Janie. I would have a crush on her for the rest of elementary school.