It was probably second grade. My teacher then was Miss Kearney, who was an animated and cheerful woman who liked to read to us. Her favorites for reading to us were a series of stories about a boy with a largish dog who was always getting into pickles. The boy, that is; the dog, from what I remember, was just a lovable, harmless doofus.
One of the stories that stood out was one where he has entered his dog in a local judging contest, and he wanted his dog to look pure white instead of his normal beige-y color. So he got his mom's bottle of talcum powder and started pouring it on his dog without checking it out first. The talcum was NOT as you might expect, white, but pink. He had to parade his pink dog in the ring, an embarrassing situation for any red-blooded boy. Although I think he was awarded Most Unusual Dog or something like that.
Valentine's Day came around that year with snow on the ground and a nip in the air. We ran and played on the playground at lunch time with abandon all winter. Bundled up in thick coats, scarves, hats, boots and mittens, we still managed to propel ourselves around playing chase, a form of crack-the-whip, and another game with no name that involved dragging another willing pupil around the playground.
The child squatted close to the ground with arms forward, and a line of kids on each side took his or her hand and towed him/her across the grounds. It looked like a V of geese only on the ground instead of in the sky, and produced lots of laughs as we all ran faster and faster.
Miss Kearney announced we would hold a Valentine card exchange. She was a youngish lady with short brown hair that formed a cap on her head. We never thought to wonder if she had a Valentine of her own. Some teachers went away at the end of the school year in June as Miss Something and came back in September as Mrs. Something-Else, but we never gave a thought to how that came about. Things just happened, stream of consciousness style.
Anyway, we were to give everyone else in class a Valentine card and not omit anyone from our list. Miss Kearney handed out a list of all the pupils in the class so we could write a name on each card. So far, so good.
Mom and I had to add Valentine cards to the shopping list. Walgreens and the grocery store carried boxes and boxes of little cards for schoolchildren to use. They were simple and sentimental and cartoony, and often came in heart shapes. Everyone used more or less the same type. The boxes held enough for one classful - usually 30. If you really wanted to splurge you could buy the slightly fancier cards but they only came 15 or 20 or 25 to a box, and you might have to chip in some of your own allowance money for the second box.
So far, so good. I had my list and my cards and colored writing implement to affix the names on the little envelopes. I took care not to give too gooey a sentiment to certain boys because I would not want them to think I was actually stuck on them. Just give them my kind regards and that's all.
That meant instead of giving them a card that said something like: I'm just wild about you, Valentine, I might select something along the lines of: A Valentine wish for you. Short and to the point, and no mushy stuff.
Of course the nicer boys might something a little warmer in tone. Poetry, perhaps. Roses are red, Violets are blue, Please be my Valentine, Cuz I like you.
Then at school, art class was spent decorating our bag to receive our Valentine cards. A white bag about the size of a standard lunch sack was crayoned or painted and glued with whatever hearts and flowers we might find in magazines at home or in Miss Kearney's collection.
Valentine's Day came. I was not too excited or nervous, as after all I was an old hand at this from first grade. I was prepared with my cards and handed them out to the other kids as we all wandered from desk to desk.
I do not recall if Miss Kearney handed out candy or any other treats. I do know we still had regular classwork to do and were assigned homework as usual. So at the end of the day, I gathered up my little stack of books and the sack of Valentines to take home. That is, after piling into my coat and hat and scarf and boots and mittens.
Dashed home which was about five blocks away. I probably strolled on the tops of snow banks but did not stop to throw snowballs at anyone.
After getting in the door and unburdening myself of my snow gear, I took my books into my room. I came back to the kitchen where mom was getting supper ready and she asked, Where are your Valentines?
I was brought up short. I knew I had the white bag in my mittened hand while walking home. I went to look in my room, in the entryway, by the door outside -- nothing.
Oh, gee, I must have dropped them on the way home. I bundled up again and tried to retrace my steps before dark. I looked on the sidewalks, by the curbs, I thought maybe I had dropped them while on top of snow banks so I retraced my steps and checked the roadside. I had walked a girl friend home two blocks away so I retraced the steps to her house.
Granted, finding a white bag amid a landscape of more-or-less white snow was not a snap, but I was keeping an eye peeled for red heart outlines or maybe spilled cards.
Not a sign of them. I returned home as empty-handed as when I had ventured out again.
I had no clue what had happened and was not aware of when I lost my grip on the bag. Stuff happens. I was getting over it.
My parents were a bit more sentimental than I was. Dad asked me at the dinner table if I lost my Valentines. Yeah, I said, I know I had the bag in my hands but I don't know where I dropped them. And I looked and everything.
Years later my mother said she cried that night over my lost Valentines. I do not know if it was because she just liked to look at them herself, or if she imagined I was distraught over their loss. Well, I was not distraught, sorry. They were just silly little cards and giving them did not mean anything personal. No magnificent obsessions were hatched in second grade classrooms.
But now I happened to look at the Valentine selection in a card aisle, and it just is not the same as when I was a little girl. No innocent boys in short pants, or girls in puff-sleeved frocks grace these cards. No teddy bears or puppies or kittens, even. Instead there's superheroes, Harry Potter, Barbie, Bratz, and some scratch-and-sniff or motion cards.
It isn't just one bag of Valentines that have been lost. It is a whole generation raised to think that love could be sweet and innocent and clean and kind. There was a love that asked only that you play nice and fair, and then share what you had, however little it may be.