Sunday, 14 February 2021
the most reliable Valentine of all
My earliest memories of Valentine's Day are all jumbled together. I can't remember the year, the age, the time – but I can remember that my mother sent me a Valentine's card each year, something she still denies, although lately, less strenuously than in previous years.
I knew it was her because of the handwriting. My mother has many talents – she bakes a mean apple tart and can tell you, to the digit, the licence plate of every single car owned by her, her friends or any of her family members – but disguising her handwriting is not one of them. I was never quite sure why she didn't get my Dad, whose writing I rarely saw, with the exception of a signature that looks a little like a treble clef, to write it. Maybe that was part of the fun.
Each card would contain a message – something about how they (the anonymous card-writer, not my mother) had admired me from afar and hoped that, one day, I would notice them. Even though I knew they were from my mother, I still liked to imagine who else could have written the cards.
I would almost always have one boy on the go – and by "on the go", I mean, a boy I liked to think obsessively about and gaze at longingly across the classroom, usually a boy who either had no idea of my fervent admiration or, more often, was well aware and entirely repulsed by it – and so I would sometimes allow myself to imagine it was him, that he was embarrassed to admit to his feelings in front of his friends, but that there was hope for a secret romance between the two of us, if only we could find a way to initiate it. (I may be 36 now, but "is embarrassed of me in front of his friends" has never quite made it into my list of dealbreakers. You can find your way around anything, if you try hard enough.)
One of the truly convincing aspects of my mother's ruse was the fact that she used to affix a stamp to the front of each of these envelopes – a stamp that would then be franked by the post office, evidence that not only had someone paid to send me this letter, but they had actually placed it in a postbox at some distance from our home. These were not the actions of a woman whose eagle eye can detect an unfranked stamp a mile off, whose kitchen cupboard contains a tin full of those same unfranked stamps, carefully cut off the envelopes to which they were originally affixed,
When I first began to cotton on to mother's adventures in espionage, I was quite offended. I saw it as an act of pity, a sympathy card sent to her second born daughter, the hideous troll who would surely never receive a Valentine's card on her own merits. How dare she assume that! I thought, indignantly, entirely ignoring the fact that hers was the first Valentine's I ever received. To this day, hers have amounted to the most Valentine's cards received from any one person. Her love has been the most reliable of my life.
She doesn't send them any more. I'm not quite sure when she stopped – well into my twenties, anyway, past the age at which you should probably find getting Valentine's cards from your Mum a bit embarrassing. I'm engaged now, and living on another continent; her handwriting isn't what it used to be, after a fall that broke her wrist, and from which she has not fully recovered. The cards don't come any more, but the love – I know that's still there.
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