Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valentine’s Day—Bah! Humbug! or Bravo!

OK, Cupid! (No, I don’t mean the dating website that caters mostly to singles still paying off their college loans.) I’m giving two thumbs up to the Roman god of love, aka Eros to the ancient Greeks, aka the Hallmarkian creation of angelic romantic bliss that hovers in the air throughout the year and lands with a melodic flutter of wings (or a resounding thud) on February 14.

Valentine’s Day is kind of like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get until you sink your teeth into it. In the way that New Year’s Eve is the ultimate dating night of the year—candellight, wine and a midnight kiss with your sweetie—Valentine’s Day is the measure of how well you did selecting that sweetie. At the end of the day, did you revel in a rich, delicious truffle, or did you crack a tooth on an unexpected nut?
Have something sweet on Valentine's Day. The recipe for
these cookies is on Nancy Baggett's delicious website
Valentine’s Day horror stories rival the spookiest Halloween tales. Here’s a Whitman’s sampler. Consider my friend whose supposedly exclusive boyfriend got his cards mixed in his envelopes. Madame X received Madame Y’s card. “Darling Arianna,” my friend Lauren read, and on to a flowery, very amorous poem above the sign-off that began, “Ever yours.” Which, as a result of this farce, boyfriend no longer is, at least for Lauren.

Friend #2 ‘s beloved broke up with her on Valentine’s Day. Imagine, 364 perfectly reasonable days to deliver the message, and he picks that one. To this moment, my friend defends the indefensible. Of course, he should have dropped the bomb sooner, or later. But work got in his way, or travel, or whatever was more important, which was—she sighs—probably everything. Because he wasn’t a bad fellow. Really. It’s just that his timing was lousy. And with a push-off like that, tantamount to getting shoved down a luge run on the Matterhorn, she had no choice but to move on.
Have all my friends been stabbed in the aorta by cupid's arrow? Indeed not. Decades ago, I attended a Valentine’s Day wedding that was done up in pink and cream, lace and satin. It featured bridesmaids dressed in flamingo peu de soie, matchbooks (this is how far back we’re going) imprinted with entwined hearts above the bride and groom’s first names, and a towering wedding cake frosted in pink and decorated with rosettes and hearts. True to their theme, the couple honeymooned in the Poconos where they revolved on a heart shaped bed that played “You Light Up my Life.” Chrissie and Jeff, now grandparents of infant twins, have been lighting up one another’s lives for thirty-five years.

I personally know of two engagements sealed on the red letter day, one starring a heart shaped lollapalooza of a diamond. Which reminds me that in certain regions, every kiss does not begin with Kay. More likely, it begins with Katz. In New York, where I grew up, diamonds are purchased not at chain stores, but in Manhattan’s jewelry district where “this flawless pear shape just arrived from my cousin in South Africa,” or “this three carat marquise was cut personally by my uncle in Antwerp.” As I write this, I’m glancing at my own ring with its twist of two solitaires, one of which is the diamond my father gave to my mother upon their engagement.
My parents' story is one of those eternal ones, with an ending worthy of Dickens. My dad was a true romantic who found the love of his life in my mom. At seventy-five, he’d proclaim to all within earshot, “Look at that woman’s complexion. Still perfect. Isn’t she beautiful?” Valentine’s Day was his time to shine.  Now, he didn’t believe in gilding the lily. No fancy innovations, just “Tradition!” Unfailingly, he presented my mom with a dozen roses, though she wound up with eleven because he always pulled a single bloom to hand to me. And under his arm, two boxes of candy, Barton’s or Barricini’s, the prime purveyors in Brooklyn back then. A giant red satin heart crammed with assorted soft centers and chews for my mom. A smaller pink heart for me.

So, when William Devens died on Valentine’s Day, I felt there was something fitting about his date of departure. Not morbid. Bittersweet. A reminder from him about how much he adored my mother and treasured his daughter. I always remember that, but on Valentine’s day, especially.
In midlife, I find I am less like Scrooge (Bah! Humbug!) and more like Marley's ghost, floating on memories of good Valentine’s days past, schlepping the chains of not so wonderful ones. My history is mixed, but bottom line, I’m all for romance and for the day dedicated to celebrating it. So bring on the flowers. Bring on the candy. Hold the diamonds (my insurance premiums are high enough). And hold on to this thought: If you have true love, cherish it. If you’ve ever had it, be grateful. If you’re looking forward, well... you never know. Happy Valentine’s Day and may Cupid bless us, everyone.

 Toby Devens
Share the love by posting comments about Valentine’s Day, love found, lost and misplaced, the best and worst of it. One response will receive an inscribed copy of My Favorite Midlife Crisis (Yet), a story of love, laughter, revenge and redemption. Winner of our last contest is Binnie Syril Braunstein for her chicken soup recipe. A copy of my new novel Happy Any Day Now (Penguin/NAL) will be on its way to Binnie at pub date in August.