Be my Valentine

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Valentine’s is the day I always think of Mrs. Zesky, my fifth grade teacher back at Slocum Elementary School in Defiance, Ohio.

That February holiday, Mrs. Zesky invited us to bring Valentine cards for each student. In those days, I imagine, such a card would only cost a few cents so it wouldn’t be a financial burden on most families.

I’d bet anything if some student came to her to say that her family couldn’t afford the Valentines, she’d see that student, somehow, had the cards for each fellow student. That was just the way my favorite teacher handled things. That’s the spirit of Valentine’s!

This year we celebrated the holiday are our house. My wife Toni asked family members to bring a Valentine’s card for each other person, 10 of us in all. Our younger granddaughter Cynthia had to work that evening. Toni’s sister Vicki had the flu and didn’t feel up to making the trip from North Manchester to our house in Fort Wayne.

Still, we had a crowd. That included Toni’s sister Patti and her five-year-old granddaughter Mayzi. This child now sits on a regular dining room or kitchen chair. (What’s a holiday without at least one kid, eh?) Patti also brought a carrot cake for dessert. The youngest sister, Lori, brought shrimp cocktail.

My endlessly creative spouse Toni had put together a bag of treats for each person, along with Valentine’s wishes. For the main course, she baked homemade pizza crust and put out a variety of toppings, meat for the meat eaters and plenty of vegetables for everyone. I skipped the pepperoni and black olives.

Son John the mental health advocate brought his girlfriend Cynthia. Daughter Robyn the Spanish teacher brought her older daughter Tanya and her boyfriend, Brandon. Miraculously, at least most of the family didn’t have to work that evening.

Valentine’s isn’t a romantic holiday for everyone. I suppose that’s one reason it is so universally observed. It celebrates love. That’s something we all can identify with. We got love from parents and close family. We got it from brothers and sisters. We got it, after a fashion, from playmates. As we got older we received love from close friends.

In turn, we loved them all back if in our own particular way. I’m sure I never said to my neighborhood pals, “I love you.” Nor did they ever proclaim such a feeling toward me. Yet we all cared about each other.

I know that in the first grade I broke Davy Morehouse’s collar bone playing football in my yard I felt bad. I hoped he could return soon to our little playing field. I’m sure I didn’t call it love. But I cared.

By the time you’re in high school, you’ve figured out that love is universal, even though other people’s skin color is different from yours, even though they don’t speak your language,
even though they live in another country.

In his letter to church members at Corinth, St. Paul extols various “spiritual” gifts, then declares, “The greatest of these is love.” The King James version of the Bible translates the word here as charity, which resonated with readers in 1611. Today, the word is more meaningfully rendered “love.”

St. Paul notes that love suffers long and is kind. Isn’t that the truth? Whether you’re talking about a child, a parent or a spouse, the notion of love sums up the most critical character of the relationship. It’s the best part.

I can imagine that St. Paul added ways to put love into practice. I can imagine that he suggested that people listen to each other, to hear them out. I can imagine he advised them not to insult a husband, wife or child. I imagine he taught them to apologize when they’ve given offense. I’m positive St. Paul told people to give generously to others.

Back in the fifth grade, I believe that Mrs. Zesky, whether she knew it or not, modeled such a spirit for all her students. I just wish today that I could thank her. I’d sure like to wish her a Happy Valentine’s Day.

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