Valentine's Day always had a big build-up where I grew up. In the 1960's, I participated in all of those school parties for Valentine's Day that were obligatory in the classrooms around the country, where you would buy those cheap valentines and use a cardboard box for a mailbox and stuff it with valentines for all of your classmates.
It was sometimes mortifying for people to get just two or three when some in the class got dozens when we very publicly distributed and counted them, but we were built stronger and tougher in the 60's and we all survived humiliation like that.
Through elementary school, I had a few crushes, unrequited; and I was the subject of a few crushes not reciprocated, but I had nothing in the way of a real Valentine on that special day through those years. Although it took me a long while (forever) to blossom, I always had boys with crushes on me, and I had my fair share of very temporary boyfriends from a young age. (Ok, I was boy crazy, I admit it.)
This Valentine's Day memory came flooding back to me while reminiscing with someone about the great times hanging out in the neighborhood where I babysat through 8th and 9th grades as a "mother's helper." (Not too close but not very far from the area where I grew up.) I was fourteen, but back in this era, it was common for girls to start dating while in middle school. Lots of my peers had boyfriends.
I was in the ninth grade, age fourteen and I was gawky awkward, just beginning in the throes of late puberty. I wore glasses; (at a time when glasses were NOT cool to have) and for an extra attractive look, I had those big metal braces in my mouth. (The original braces of thick silver bands that wrapped clear around your entire tooth that was the opposite of the delicate glue-on braces worn today. The term "metal-mouth" was deadly accurate with this kind of brace-work.)
Despite the horrific details above, I am surmising that I was just a little bit cute because boys seemed to like me. I was a big flirt too. Still, I had never gotten a real Valentine's card, or that coveted box of chocolates from anyone.
So getting back to Valentine's Day, in ninth grade in 1969, I was working every weekend in this different neighborhood, sleeping over from Friday until Sunday working as a mother's helper. Because I was there each and every weekend my only social life on weekends involved hanging out with kids in this neighborhood that was not my own. I had a bunch of free time each weekend when the parents were around, and I will never forget the friendliness of the kids there who let me tag along. In the winter, I even went sledding with them. It was a great bunch of guys and girls in this neighborhood and they never treated me like an outsider.
One of the guys who befriended me lived on the same cul-de-sac street as my employers. We were simply friends, hanging out together, talking about music that we both loved - the usual hang out and friendship stuff. I remember him as a very tall, dirty-blonde-haired boy, who also wore glasses, and maybe he had a few pimples. (I think he looked a bit like Chad of the singing duo "Chad and Jeremy" of that era). He was sweet and friendly and his name was Paul, but I had a crush on his friend in the neighborhood, a guy named Jay.
Valentine's Day fell on a wintry Friday in that year 1969. I arrived early evening for my weekend work as a mother's helper, all dressed up for the holiday. In a look I vividly remember to this day, I wore red velvet pants and a frilly white blouse, my hair in braids and ribbons, and had shiny lip gloss on my lips. I have no clue as to why I dressed up just to babysit, but it was Valentine's Day and I guess I was an optimistic teen; perhaps I was hoping to get a sighting from my crush Jay.
The parents of my charges went out for the evening, and I was left to babysit with the children alone in the house when the tall blonde haired boy came over and rang the doorbell. His arms were full of goodies - he went all out for me. He brought me a giant card and other cards, and a big box of chocolates; my very first heart-shaped box of chocolates from a boy. He awkwardly asked me to be his Valentine. It was a bitter cold night in 1969, and he was outside shivering with his array of sweet presents and a hopeful look on his face. I stood on the inside all dressed up for the holiday, with my little shining glossed lips and hair ribbons, and he must have momentarily thought he was in luck.
I was so astounded with how sweet, but how misdirected his romantic advances were, that I grabbed everything quickly and slammed the door in his face.
Replaying our interactions in my mind at that time, I wondered what I did to encourage his affections, and I had to admit to myself, I was quite a flirt with all the boys I knew. It came naturally, and I never knew when to turn it off or dial it down. I had led this guy on without even knowing I was doing that, and often I was vaguely aware that boys had crushes on me due to my flirtations, and I stupidly encouraged them without any intention of making good on that. (I think they used to call that personality a "tease," but it was not intentional.)
I felt remorseful and guilty, but did not try to repair the situation at the time.
For someone not that attractive, I sure was particular. Why are kids at that age so rejecting, cruel, and selfish? I am ashamed to admit that I was all of the above. I was no better or more attractive than this guy, and here I was thinking to myself at the time, "AS IF!"
In fact, this is one of those memories where I wish I could push a rewind button, and handle it differently in a more mature way.
He was a nice guy, not a bad looking boy, and he sure went to a lot of trouble to give me a sweet Valentine's Day surprise. If I could, I would go back in time. I would graciously accept his gifts with a smile, and give him a little peck on the cheek. In my gracious gratitude, I would act like he was the most heroic, handsome guy on the planet through the surprise, to gift him back with the moment he so obviously wanted on Valentine's Day in 1969.
So tall, blonde haired, bespectacled, slightly pimply Paul who was a Chad of "Chad and Jeremy" lookalike, if you are out there somewhere, I am remorseful and ashamed of my selfish fourteen year old former person. It is my fervent wish that things got a lot better for you on each of the subsequent Valentine's Days that followed.
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