By Sherilyn Bailey, KERA 90.1 Commentator
Dallas, TX – Valentine's Day has always been about chalky candy hearts with three-word messages; pre-printed, store-bought cards tucked inside tiny white envelopes; and, of course, the delight of discovering I was loved - even if the message did arrive in a paper-covered shoe box I'd made at school.
But, time has changed all that. Eight years ago, just before Valentine's Day, my mother asked me to go to a small gift shop to purchase several heart-shaped Limoges boxes. As usual, my mother was thinking ahead, covering all the bases. One of the boxes was to be her Valentine gift from my dad; one was to be for my sister from her husband; and the third was for someone in the real estate office where my mother worked. My mother, my sister and I shared spirited adventures into the world of flea markets, estate sales and antique auctions. Limoges boxes were just the latest on our list of collectibles. I was happy to oblige her, thinking I could, perhaps, buy myself one, too.
As a 30-something-year-old divorcee who had just broken up with the man I'd been dating, I was convinced that this year I would be Valentine-less. I had been communicating with another man, someone I'd known 20 years before in high school. But he was in Berkeley and I was in Dallas, and after several months of letter-writing and long-distance phone calls, our relationship (what there was of it) had stalled. Also divorced, Jon was reluctant to re-enter a relationship, while I was deeply concerned that I loved him, and that I always had.
So on that Valentine's Day eight years ago, when I would receive no roses, chocolate or cards from the man in my life, my mother came calling. She carried a red tin, adorned with pictures of cherubs and lace and full of the chocolate snowball cookies that were my favorite, and that she'd made each year since I was a child. Later, as she was leaving and giving me a check for the Limoges boxes, she told me shyly that the third box was really for me.
My mother's gifts were often difficult for her to offer and at times even more difficult for me to comprehend. She once gave me a large bundle of white washcloths because she said I never had enough when she came to visit. But the uniqueness of her gifts simply made them that much more special.
A few months after that Valentine's Day, my mother passed away, suddenly, from a heart attack. There were no final pronouncements; there was no time for either of us to say, "I love you."
But my mother's generosity is still with me. In addition to 40 years of fond memories, a porcelain heart-shaped box and plenty of white washcloths, she gave me something else - my mother taught me how to give of myself, no matter how much or little I have.
Jon did come to be with me that year; we married just after my mother died, and we now have two beautiful sons. Valentine's Day is no longer about the pre-packaged or the predictable. And I will never confine my thoughts of love to a shoebox again.