The Simple Goodness of Giving by Annita Woz

cowgirlfeetI sat in the backseat, my elbows bent over the vinyl middle of the front, barely tall enough to see over the dash of our car, just staring at the red spinning lights of the ladder truck then covering my ears as each siren sounded the arrival of another fire and rescue vehicle.

We were parked on the gravel road and far enough away from the driveway that the firefighters could easily get in and out. I didn’t see any flames, but I could smell the smoke and see it, too, blacker than the night sky, rolling out of the roof.  Our two story house was surrounded by strangers doing their jobs in the night when it seems most chimney fires decide to make trouble for families.

Rudely awakened by being pulled from my bed, I grabbed my blue kitty blanket for warmth and I do not remember my dad scooping my sister out of the bottom bunk or how I got down the stairs and into the family car. My mom explained that we had a fire in the chimney but that it was not going to burn our house down and that we would go to Grandma and Grandpa’s farm for the rest of night.

With a gasp I remembered our black poodle and asked my dad if she was burning in the fire. He pointed out the window at her, where she seemed oddly enough to be more safe nipping at the tires of the incoming trucks than she would be inside the smoke filled house.  I could see her mouth opening and closing in typical fashion as she did her job of defending our home from strangers or guests. In my six year old head, I imagined her jumping on my dad’s chest in the night to disturb his snoring, to wake him, and allow my dad to be the hero and save our family from the flames.

In the morning, I sat on my mother’s lap in Grandma Isabel’s kitchen.  We had a traditional breakfast of fried eggs, with a pat of butter on top, then  all of it mashed together with a fork to make the orange yoke and the white of the softly fried egg into a beautiful collage of warm and salty goodness.  The blue light bulb in the socket at the top of the stairs had been left on all night in the upstairs room while we slept under the slanted ceiling of the farmhouse.  Our talk at the breakfast table was about the fire.

It was then that I realized that it was Valentine’s Day at our school and I was late and oh, my valentines were at the house and we had to hurry and get them and get to the party.  My mom patted my nightgown and hugged my shoulders and pointed to my bare feet. She gently told me I would have to miss Valentine’s day because I didn’t have any clothes to wear to school.  I was very sad, very angry at chimneys, and really mad that Dad had not told those firefighters to save my valentines and my clothes.

This morning, while driving my three to school, I listen to them talking about the parties planned for the day. One has made her own valentines this year after rejecting the store bought ones with princesses, or barbies or even the fabric draped chubby winged cupid baby valentines that she had rejected at the local bookstore.  Instead she folded the paper, cut out the twenty-two half hearts.  Inside she had carefully written the same message to the girls and then a shorter, less wordy and less warm message for each boy and informed me that the boys just took the candy and threw the valentines away anyway so really, it wasn’t being rude to not write nice messages to each of them.

My other daughter looked puzzled for a minute, then declared that she didn’t want the boys to keep hers anyway. She had carefully printed the names of all the classmates, then the teachers, then after realizing she had extra valentines proceeded to write out cards for special kids in the lower grades, some neighbors and then two cousins and and gave me strict instructions on how to position the candy on the cards and securely tape each side so the to and the froms would be readable.  It was at that time that she realized some of the cards had messages like, “You are dog gone cute!” and she hesitated after seeing that some of these were going to real boys who were not cute at all to her.  She settled for scribbling out the words with permanent marker on some of them and tried hard to ignore all the red hearts and lovey words that still remained. She carefully sorted, stacked, realigned and planned how she was going to deliver her valentines, determined to not let any friend down and intent on making everyone feel as special as she wanted them to feel.

My youngest took all of his valentines to school in his Sketchers shoe box, the same one reserved for carrying valuable Pokemon cards, or spy gear or matchbox cars to and from play dates.  He had taken time to cut out three black paper hearts after seeing his big sister make her valentines and knowing she had used every scrap of the red and pink construction paper from the craft bin. His black valentines were carefully set to the side since they would go to the important people he really cared about- Dad, Big Nick, and Big Nick’s little brother, his good friend Michael.  On one of the valentines he carefully wrote seven numbers in the order he had memorized and learned to recognize while playing with the calculator taken from my desk.  He hoped that a new friend, just a girl in his class, he casually said, would call him for a play date.

As I drove to school,  I was thankful for the commercialization of Valentine’s Day.  My children took it for what it was – another opportunity for candy and a party- yes, the most important things in life.  They didn’t make the valentines to declare their love for anyone, or to impress anyone but simply for the opportunity to give some sugar and know that they would get some sugar in return.

All grown up now, I have no worries of chimney fires and love the February holiday that can get my children to run to start their day at school.  This Valentine’s Day, right now, is all about them,  is all about the good stuff, the bag of goodies they will deliver, the simple goodness of giving and the sweet satisfaction of getting.

While watching them run down the sidewalk to their friends, I remember carefully choosing the candy hearts-with just the right message- for each of my classmates in elementary school.  I remember carefully reading my valentines and making sure to give ones with a beautiful message to my girl friends, and maybe a special one was selected for the boy that was kindest to me in the classroom.  My thoughts were not about making boyfriends or pledging my love, but I was already good at imagining what my future should be.  Even then, I knew my future  included someone who could bravely rescue me and my dog from a burning building.

I clearly remember- and it makes me grin to think of it again,  just as it did that day- I remember when I did meet someone who meaured up to my imagination,  someone who still proves chivalry exists,  someone who slipped a neatly folded piece of notebook paper that had my name carefully printed and spelled correctly on the outside of it,  into locker 103.

His request for a first date,  delivered nowhere near February 14th,  remains the most true and honest valentine ever given to me.


One Response

  1. Reblogged this on Annita Wozniak and commented:

    An oldie Valentine, is still a Valentine…

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