When I was a little girl, I loved February: Valentine’s Day is in February; I could almost be guaranteed snow or ice would cancel school in February; and February’s the month I was born.
It seems like we prepared for Valentine’s Day for weeks. Everyone brought a shoebox to school, and we decorated it with crêpe paper flowers and hearts. I got paste all stuck in my hair and all over my clothes. I liked to taste paste, too. The smell got all up in my nose and begged my fingers to put some in my mouth. Yummy. Teacher said it was no good and would make me sick, but it never did. Not even a little bit.
Mom brought home little store-bought cards in bulk from the grocery store, and I printed MY name on the back. Then I got to choose which card went to each student in my class. I had two Bettys in my class and two Lindas. I’ve heard about kids being sorely disappointed that they didn’t receive a card on Valentine’s Day, but as far as I know that never happened in my school. I gave a card to everyone, and I got one from everyone, too. Who got which card was the tricky part. I wanted to make sure I express my love for that certain someone in just the right way. Should Frankie’s say “Be Mine” or “Forever Yours”? And what if Frankie’s to me just said, “Friends”? Or worse, what if he gave me the ‘teacher’ card that came in every box? That would be the worst.
I almost flunked out of Kindergarten ’cause I went haywire on my writing. Valentine’s Day saved me. All year, up until I had to get my cards ready for the party, I wrote my name wrong. Maybe it was because I am left-handed, maybe I’m a little dyslexic. Who knows? I remember Mom talking to the neighbor, Mrs. Russell and to my aunts, puzzling over why I wrote my name as if I were looking in a mirror and wondering why I couldn’t see the difference in the what I wrote and what I saw on the page. Mom sat with me while a signed each card letter by letter, making them turn around and face correctly and march across the page from left to right. After 42 cards, the habit stuck, my writing was, well, right. Shortly after that, I wrote my name everywhere. The best place was right by the back door, under the light switch. I used my favorite Crayola for that: red.
As much as I loved school, a snow day was a treat. Me and Bonita and Deanna got our sleds out and slid down the hill next to our house. Sometimes we slid down the driveway, but the driveway emptied into a pretty busy paved road. If there was an ice storm, to avoid going into the road, we had to bail off the sleds. When we tired of sledding, we went across the road and got Nancy and Dougie and Noreen and Tommy and Cathy from next door. We all walked down to the creek, and slid on the frozen creek water under the road. There we’d lay waiting for a car to pass by. Nancy said the road would collapse on top of us if too many cars went over at once, or if a big truck went over.
Sometimes I got super-duper lucky and snow day would fall on my birthday. Then we all enjoyed the classroom birthday treat at home, and Mom would make another batch of cupcakes to take when school was back in session. It seems like it happened more times than not, but that’s surely my memory playing tricks on me.
My birthday was all by itself in the month of February; a whole six weeks after Deanna’s. Mom always made sure each of us had our own special day, regardless of whether it fell close to someone else’s. No doubling up when it came to birthdays. Still, six weeks left us longing for cake and ice cream, and the festive feeling a birthday can bring.
When I turned six, I got a birthday party. That was the rule: six and sixteen. Man-o-man, there are rules for everything under the sun, even birthdays. My first party
was a surprise. I never quite figured out that all my classmates just happened to come over to my house, with presents under their arms. What a wonderful coincidence! Frankie gave me a lovely charm bracelet. You probably guessed it, his was the Valentine that said “Be Mine.”
I still love February. Such a short month, it holds such promise. The days are getting longer, and soon they will be warmer. Sometimes, I spot crocuses poking their hopeful faces toward the sun.