Cutie Pie, Won't You Be My Valentine?

Sara Etgen-Baker

© Copyright 2023 by Sara Etgen-Baker

Photo from the author.
 Photo courtesy of the author..

In elementary school, I was awkward and terribly shy and believed I was unpopular and anything but cute. So Valentine’s Day, the day of expressing friendship, admiration, and love, was a source of apprehension for me. But I loved being creative, and my ten-year old heart skipped a beat when Mrs. Cook, my fourth grade teacher announced, “It’s time to make your Valentine’s Day mailbox! Remember to bring an empty shoebox to school tomorrow.”

I rushed home and retrieved the empty shoe box Mother had saved for me to use in crafting my mailbox. Immediately after lunch the following day, Mrs. Cook distributed scissors; a wealth of colored construction paper; lacy white, pink, and red paper doilies; and plenty of paste. We fourth graders pulled our desks together working diligently to create our own unique Valentine’s mailbox worthy of her “Cupid Award,” the award one lucky student would receive at our Valentine’s Day party for making the best Valentine’s Day mailbox.

A few days before our Valentine’s Day party, Mother took me to the local five and dime store where I selected a package of valentines. As I recall, the cards had funny rhymes or puns while others simply requested the recipient to ‘Be My Valentine.’ Some depicted animals while others depicted boys and girls and had lots of hearts on them. A teacher card was always included in the package.

As Valentine’s Day approached, we finished making our mailboxes keeping them on a corner of our desks in anticipation of party day. A week prior to the party day, Mrs. Cook gave us a list of all the students in our class. “Give every student in class a valentine, even to classmates you may not like.” I remember sitting at the dining room table, pen in hand, carefully printing my first name on the back of each card then carefully choosing which card to give each classmate.

I loved being Cupid, picking out the valentines I thought were the cutest, the funniest, and the prettiest for classmates I liked best. I slowly picked and chose, carefully matching the card to an envelope and neatly writing a classmate’s name on the front of the small white envelope. I picked a special one to give Jeff Budlong, the heartthrob of our fourth grade class. It portrayed a boy and a girl googly-eyed over one another each carrying a heart that read, Cutie Pie, won’t you be my Valentine?’ After signing, ‘addressing,’ and sealing the envelopes, I dropped them in a brown paper lunch bag and carried them to school on Valentine’s Day. Moms delivered tins or boxes full of heart-shaped pink and red homemade cookies and brownies on party day while Mrs. Cook provided paper plates, cups and juice.

An hour before the three o’clock bell rang on Valentine’s Day, we put away our schoolwork and got out our mailbags. There was a buzz of excitement in the air as each row was called, and the students in that row hurried about the room depositing their valentines into the correct mailboxes. Once the deliveries were completed, row by row we went to the table where all the goodies were laid out choosing a few treats along with a cup of juice before returning to our seats to snack and open our valentines.

I slowly opened each envelope taking delight in reading the messages and any special inscriptions a classmate made on the back of the valentine itself. Imagine my surprise when I opened one tiny envelope and discovered it was identical to the one I’d given Jeff Budlong. When I turned it over, my heart leapt out of my chest, and I gasped. Jeff’s signature was on the back!

Jeff thinks I’m cute!” I told Mother on the way home from school. “Look!” I flashed his valentine in front of her. “He gave me the same valentine I gave him. He loves me like I love him! I know he does.” Yes, I was gripped by puppy love, filled with adoring, worshipful affection for Jeff. I was so love struck in fact that I couldn’t even muster the courage to look at Jeff in class the next day. Every time I came near him on the playground I ran in the opposite direction. Ah! Unrequited love.

For years I kept Jeff’s valentine neatly tucked inside a discarded cigar box hidden under my bed. I liked going back and looking at it along with other valentine cards I received from many of my elementary school friends. Eventually, I discarded them, but the memories of those wonderful elementary school valentines remains. I admit I still enjoy looking at the boxed valentines for school children in the stores this time of year and remembering days long ago when I rushed home with my chosen package of cards and started addressing them to my classmates and teacher.

Sharing the love in our tiny hearts made the world a nicer place back then. Today I still enjoy buying and giving valentines cards to my spouse, close friends, family, and loved ones (even the furry and feathered ones). Acknowledging the love we share seems to make the world a warm and wonderful place in which to live. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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