Valentines never sent

By Michael H. O’Donnell

Valentine’s Day is not the brainchild of greeting card companies, florists and candy-makers.

It’s a day that dates back to early Christian martyrdom. Saint Valentine of Rome was imprisoned and ultimately executed for performing forbidden marriage ceremonies and ministering to Christians in an empire that prosecuted them. Legend holds that St. Valentine healed the sick daughter of the one of his jailers before he was put to death.

Before his execution for practicing his beliefs, Valentinus wrote a farewell letter to the girl he saved and signed it, “Your Valentine.”

Even a giant Teddy bear doesn’t top that.

When I participated in my first organized Valentine’s Day event back in elementary school all this history was unknown to me. All I knew was that we had to sign warm greetings inside a host of cards and share them with everyone in our classroom.

Money was tight in our household, so my mother didn’t just buy a box of ready-made cards with terms of endearment or a bag of heart-shaped candies with goofy words like “Be Mine” on them.

She insisted I make my own cards. Colored paper, scissors and glue were involved.

I never did a production analysis on the venture, but the labor costs of making those cards certainly outweighed any genuine savings. That said, mom did her part. She used an old shoe box and transformed it into a beautiful little Valentine house to hold the cards I received at school.

Valentine’s Day in second grade went off without a hitch.

As I grew up, Valentines were at first reserved for my mother. That expanded to female friends and eventually to my wife — except when memory failed me. A word of advice to all husbands, don’t forget.

For some reason this year I’ve been bothered by the realization I never send some Valentine’s Day cards that should have been delivered to important people in my life. If the driving force behind this annual gesture is to honestly let important people know how much they mean, I’ve failed miserably on several counts.

Not once did I ever send a Valentine’s Day card to my grandmothers. God knows they deserved it and I did love them both dearly. What’s worse is that Anne and Mildred lost their husbands many years before they too left his earth and that means a card was no guarantee.

My mom’s mother lost Grandpa Menard when I was just a youngster. He died of a heart attack at work and left Millie alone to provide a home for four young children. Because that Catholic family had a big split in time between my mom and her oldest brother and the rest of the clan, I have three aunts who are younger than I am and an uncle who is just three years older.

Grandma Menard rejoined the workforce at 50 and continued to provide for her family. Because she had worked in a Swedish bakery as a young woman, she had skills in the kitchen that rivaled any pastry chef. Every visit to Grandma Menard’s home was a culinary delight.

To this day, I can’t eat a cinnamon roll without thinking about how flaky and rich her creations were.

I had already moved to Idaho when Grandma O’Donnell lost grandpa to cancer five years after he retired from the railroad. My father’s parents had helped raise me the first two years of my life while my dad served in the U.S. Army. They provided a home for my mom and her newborn son.

A strong bond from those two years always existed between Grandma Anne and this goofy kid. She nicknamed me her “golden boy.”

These women meant the world to me, yet I never thought to send them a Valentine’s Day card as an adult.

The last time I saw my two grandmothers was at my own mother’s funeral many years ago. The ability to give them both a long, desperate hug was important medicine on that dark day. And yet, I didn’t stop to think about the losses they had suffered and the mailboxes at their homes that would welcome a card and a note each February.

It’s too late now. Those two great ladies are gone.

I can take solace in the knowledge that my grandmothers never really expected a Valentine’s card from me, but it doesn’t square the neglect. It also points out how quickly all of us can forget to share kind words or thoughts with the people we love — all of them — as often as possible and not just on Feb. 14.

We shouldn’t go through life leaving heartfelt messages unwritten and unshared.

If you opened a Valentine’s Day card today, consider yourself lucky.

If you sent one, consider yourself blessed.

Michael H. O’Donnell is the assistant managing editor of the Idaho State Journal.