Charles: Daily Valentines

Could there be a more angst-ridden, anxiety-producing, made-up holiday than Valentine’s Day?

We’ve barely snatched up the last of the marked-down Christmas decorations, when suddenly our local drug stores are awash in a sea of pink and red candy heart boxes and stuffed toys. It reminds us, for the next month and a half, that the day to prove our undying love and devotion is bearing down on us.

If you’re single, you’re off the hook, but constantly reminded that you’re uncoupled. And even if you’re happily alone, this time of the year everything seems to want to shout at you, you’re all alone! If you’re part of a new couple, the pressure is on — do you ignore it, at your own peril, or go overboard (again, at your own peril)? And if you’re part of the long-tethered status quo, do you do the bare minimum, step it up a notch, pull your covers over your head for the next 24 hours?

Other than National Hold and Vacuum Your Already Neurotic Cat Day, I can’t imagine a “holiday” more tailor-made for unnecessary pain and suffering.

My husband may bring me flowers. We might exchange mushy cards. I’m not a jewelry person, so the hit to his wallet is fairly light. And then we’ll go about our day. Those are the days I look forward to.

See, it’s the daily Valentines that really tell the story. The little things we do for each other and for the people we love add up to more than all those chocolate hearts and balloons loaded into one basket once a year.

Our daily Valentines are the ones we send when we load and/or empty the dishwasher, or take out the trash, or better yet, get rid of any dead rodents or other animals that are on the property. It’s meeting up for an impromptu breakfast or lunch date, taking turns picking the movie, being a good sport about visiting family, friends, or going out dancing.

Daily Valentines are when you put away the groceries, clean the birdcage (even though you hate the birds), sew a button on a favorite shirt, cook a favorite meal, make a favorite dessert. It’s what you do for each other, because you actually like each other.

My parents were married for 48 years. In that time, my father always brought home a big box of candy for my mother for every Valentine’s Day and again on her birthday. They weren’t much for public displays of affection, but they lived every day in their commitment to raising a family.

My mother’s daily Valentine to my father was cooking dinner for their kids, lying down for a nap, and then getting up in the middle of the night to cook a second dinner for him when he came home from working the night shift.

His Valentine meant he would go to bed soon after, then wake up in a few short hours to drive her to the train so she could work the day shift. He would come back, see us off to school and then lie down for a few hours before he got up, fixed our lunch, and started getting ready for work.

They did this for years, sleeping, eating in shifts — and never complaining about the shared sacrifice of never getting a full night’s sleep, or rarely eating a meal as a family.   

My father suffered from emphysema for 10 years before it took its final toll. But as he struggled through those last months of short hospital stays and constant pulls on the inhaler that had lost its effectiveness, his main concern was that we “just take care of Mama.”

When my father went into the hospital for the last time, this once-vibrant and incredible socially engaging man had grown sick and tired of being sick and tired.

And when he lapsed into unconsciousness and the doctors told my mother that my father probably wouldn’t live through the night, this tiny woman gave him her final Valentine. “Well,” she said, settling herself into a hospital chair, “then we’re going to go through this last night together.”

He lived another 48 hours (my Daddy was the strongest man I ever knew), but she never left his side. She was there for all the final goodbyes, and when he drew his last breath.

Don’t let the florists and the candy people fool you. This is not the only Valentine’s Day that matters. It’s all the ones when we share ourselves with the people we love.

Happy Valentine’s Day, today — and all of your tomorrows.

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