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Valentine's Day can turn into something special

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I’ve never been a big champion for Valentine’s Day. I’m not sure if it’s because I was such an ugly duckling growing up that I never had many sweethearts, or if it’s because I always felt loved yearround by the people who mattered.

Either way I’ve just never gotten excited about V-Day the same way I do about Christmas, Thanksgiving or Halloween. You should see me go hard on Oct. 31. I do not play when it comes to the Day of the Dead.

Then a few years ago I realized that we actually buried my dad on Valentine’s Day when I was just 9 years old. I thought it was weird that I always associated Amazing Grace and Taps with the hearts and flowers day, but I never really thought much about it. I just thought carnations reminded everyone of a funeral.

My dad passed away suddenly just a few days after he and my mom celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary. They were ridiculous lovebirds, so it was extremely heartbreaking for Mom to put him in the ground that rainy February morning.

For their 10th anniversary, and as an early Valentine’s present, my dad got my mom the dining room set she’d always wanted. It was this very classic ’90s oak number that probably came from Ethan Allen because the few pieces of fancy furniture we ever got were from Ethan Allen. But while we never got to celebrate a single Thanksgiving or Christmas with him around that table, my mom has kept it all these years.

Even after the varnish started to wear, one of the chair legs cracked, and we moved out of the first house they ever bought together, she held on to that piece of my dad. A few years ago on what would have been their 30th wedding anniversary, my mom was going through her china cabinet looking for some napkin rings she wanted to use. That china cabinet has been emptied, packed up, and moved in and out of four different houses, but by some miracle she found a card in the bottom drawer she’d never seen before. It was from my dad.

She called me sobbing as she read the card he wrote to her to tell her how much she meant to him after a decade of marriage. She’d never seen the card before. He died before he had the chance to give it to her. We have no idea how it had been missed all those years because those drawers have been emptied a million times, but I like to think it was a little magical gift from the most loving man I’ve ever known.

Since mom found the card I’ve kind of rekindled my love of Valentine’s Day. This year my husband and I celebrated 15 years of marriage, and I’m actually writing this column from a hotel in Vegas. We jetted off for a romantic weekend while my mom stayed behind with our kids.

As we boarded our plane I texted the girls to tell them goodnight and we loved them, and my mom texted some pictures of the ridiculous decorations she’d prepared for her sweetheart weekend with the grandgirls.

The living room was filled with dozens of heart-shaped balloons, and a Valentine’s ring toss game was set up in the hall. The beds had been perfectly made with two fluffy teddy bears just waiting for hugs, and the counter was covered in a spread of flowers, pink cupcakes, teacups and Hershey’s Kisses.

Then as the airplane’s cabin doors were closing, and the flight attendants reminded me to shut down my phone, Mom’s last picture came through.

It was a single heart-shaped centerpiece sitting in the middle of the dining room table — the same dining table she got from her valentine 26 years ago.