Hearts, Flowers, Candy?
With the approach of Valentine’s Day I examined what romance means to me. In between my dropping pregnant hints to my beloved about how much I adored his previous year’s Valentine’s Day cards, I researched the stirrings of romance connected to the holiday. The same question assaulted me over and over again, What is romance and how did it become attached to Valentine’s Day?
There are varioius theories regarding the beginning of Valentine’s Day. One is that of the ancient Roman God of Agriculture, Lupercalia, celebrating spring, rebirth and fertility in mid-February. At the end of the festival, women raced through the streets where they threw their names into a large urn. Men would choose a name and spend the following year with that woman. If the year went well, the couple would marry. Was that romance?
This earliest Valentine’s Days welcomed spring, fertility, and the beginning of birds’ mating season. Being a bird-nerd, I prefer the bird theory, which coincides with my love of birds and spring. Is this romance? It is among birds, witnessed by the tender ways in which our male Cardinals feed the females choice nuts, placing each one carefully in her beak. This loving ritual occurs every spring, prior to their making a nest together and raising their young.
More common legends of St. Valentine’s Day history were based on different Valentine saints, although history can’t decide which of the saints actually began the holiday. The first St. Valentine was the result of Emperor Claudius II's decision to outlaw marriage for young, warrior-aged men. Claudius felt that single men made better soldiers than those married and with children. Valentinus, the recognized founder of the holiday, ignored the ruling and continued to perform marriages in secret, which led to him losing his head, sadly, not through love and romance. Likewise, Saint Valentine of Terni, was beheaded by Claudius II for helping Christians escape from Roman prisons. Claudius II wasn’t much of a romantic.
Also in the third century, the first man rumored to have sent a Valentine was that of a prisoner, whose message of secret love was sent to the jailor’s daughter. No word on how that romance ended up.
Geoffrey Chaucer is generally portrayed as the poet who really got Valentine’s day off the ground. In his 1375 poem, “Parliament of Foules,” written with spring in his heart, he wrote , “When every foule cometh there to choose his mate.” The holiday took off. My brief research led me to my own interpretation of Valentine's Day, but more importantly, how romance has changed throughout my life.
I first fell in love at the age of six, and was rejected by the age of seven by my once-ardent suitor, who told me “Jewish men are not allowed to marry gentiles.” I was crushed; my first broken heart. Was that romance?
I pursued romance through my early youth, doomed to rejection until I donned contact lenses to replace my thick glasses, grew breasts and curves, and learned to wear makeup and style my hair in the latest 1964 fashion.
A new world opened up to me when Michael Cipporelli pursued me and gave me a charm bracelet with a heart engraved with his initials. Our romance took off like a hot air balloon until Michael moved to a different, distant neighborhood. I was deflated.
Being an avid bibliophile from an early age, I was influenced by Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Rebecca, Green Mansions and Tom Sawyer. The scene of Tom’s first kiss with Becky made my ten-year-old heart swoon. I was certain. That was romance. However, I have never been fond of caves since Becky and Tom became lost in one.
This memory leads me to wonder about my grandchildren’s future in the romance department. I believe today's kids are wiser and less affected by their projected love interest's fickleness or attention span. I hope this theory proves to be true. What will they think and learn of romance? Will they survive the ravages of heartbreak, dealt from the Valentine’s Day deck of cards?
Times have changed in the world and in my life. Now, romance is making a special meal for my sweetheart.
It is waking up in the middle of the night to find we are holding hands. It is the dip in the center of our mattress that fits our bodies. It is dancing together to the beautiful twang of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon. Tim plays the Harvest Moon video whenever he feels romantic, and it never fails to entice me onto our living-room-dance floor and into his arms. The music and the accompanying video make my heart strings twang. In the video, the love memories, the dancing, swaying hips together, the race to the car and a special tryst, is wondrous. The world was so fresh and young, sparkling and shattering with the phosphorescence of stars overhead and soaring music in the background. I’m sure this video has brought more than one young man or woman to to dip their toes into the pond of love and dive deeply into that moment.
I spy on couples around me in our everyday life. The young couple, giggling over which vegetables to buy at the greengrocers and wondering how to cook them. The couple with their baby, in love all over again with this new life, and one another. The old tottering couple crossing the street, the tall gentleman holding his wife’s hand, guiding her as the light changes, reminds me of one of our walks through the neighborhood.
Early morning walks are my favorite time of day, when I can manage to get out of bed where I am warmly nestled in a pile of quilts. Tim and I walk hand in hand, heads together, going over this or that, contemplating the day, remarking on the birds in the neighborhood. We stop to annoy neighborhood chickens by mimicking their clucking. We brew colorful fantasies of the people we meet and the houses we pass. On one of our walks we were apprehended by a Process Server in her big white TPD SUV. She stopped next to us and we wondered if we had somehow been discovered to have gone awry of the law.
“I just had to stop and tell you two how cute you two are, walking down the street, laughing and holding hands.” We were pleased, and stunned. I realized, we are that tottering couple crossing the street, holding hands, protecting one another. That’s romance in your seventies, I realized.
On the other hand, Valentine's Day can bring angst to new couples. Should one send a Valentine's Day card, or not? Declare their love in subtle or overwhelming ways, from roses, candy, or a special dinner of Lobster and champagne? Be safe and send a “special friend” card to their latest prospect? Or, the most enormous commitment, jewelry. The perfect, or imperfect card, gift, or meal, could easily put a charm or a chasm in that hopeful mountain of fresh love.
Speaking of lobsters, who came up with that idea for a special Valentine's Day meal, anyway? I found the answer. Lobsters mate for life, and can frequently be seen crawling along the ocean floor holding claws. Which brings me to my next thought, the other side of romance: Lobsters, and love, with claws.
Romance changes as the years progress. The arguments couples have, the differences of opinion, the mishandling of events and the episodes of anger. Perhaps, I thought, true romance is not only the cards, the hearts, flowers, lobsters, bottles of wine and champagne, but getting through the difficult times, as well the happy times.
For my sweetheart and I, we are still learning how to navigate the age-old question of what romance is. These thoughts consume me as I search through Publix for that perfect Whitman’s heart-shaped box of nut and chocolate encrusted turtles. I worry that Tim’s favorite gift, a new drawing book, won’t arrive on time. (It did. My beloved managed to waylay the Amazon driver, gleefully waving his gift overhead, taunting me, two weeks prior to Valentine's Day.)
I smile to myself as I begin making my traditional heart-shaped cake for Valentine's Day, remembering Valentine's Days of the past, each year marking a new page in the photo album of our hearts.
Valentine’s day holds a different meaning for every couple, from sweet moments to tart ones, all to be savored. I put the cake in the oven and retrieve my calligraphy pens to write this year’s Valentine’s day message in Tim’s newest drawing book. I wonder what to write, then, smile over a special memory. I hope I will never run out of verses and memories to share with my love, no matter the year, or the holiday.