Cally was always busy as a bee on Saturday's but not today. Instead she was sulking because mother was too busy to take her to the store to buy Valentine Cards for School. Mother was too busy to even hear her complaint today so she went to Grandmother's room hoping to find someone who would agree that she really needed the cards now.
Grandmother was sitting at her sewing machine when she felt Cally lay her head against her arm. Oh dear, said grandmother, looks like we have a problem today. Come sit next to me Cally while I finish this hem and talk to me. Grandmother, said Cally, I want to go to the store and buy Valentine's before they sell all the good ones but mother is too busy to take me. Did you send Valentine's when you were in school grandmother?
Of course we sent Valentine's. Holiday's when I was a child seemed to last much longer and were much more important then a plastic bag of bought cards. Really grandmother, how could one day last a long time, asked Cally. Maybe we took more time with everything special because we didn't have television, computers, school sports or any of things you have now, said grandmother. NO TELEVISION? I don't think I would have liked that, said Cally.
We didn't have television until I was 10, but that's a story for another day. Let me tell you about Valentine's Day and maybe those bought cards won't be so important to you, said grandmother.
I remember third grade Valentine's Day so well because that's when I first learned to sew. Early in February the teacher would put all of our names in a jar, shake it, close her eyes and pick out a name. This person would be the mailbox maker, a very special job. He or she would find a cardboard box and wrap it in paper, decorate it, and put a hole in the top for putting the cards in. It would sit on teacher's desk and every morning we were given time to put our cards in it. What's so special about that, asked Cally?
Once I knew the box was being made, I raced home from school to find things to make my cards with. I remember begging mother to give me a few paper doillies that she used to put under birthday cakes. She also had a tin filled with trims she had removed from clothing that could no longer be used for wearing. So many buttons, lace and ribbons. Many of the red ribbons had been saved from past Christmas's. Next I would plan on just the right words to say when I asked father for a dime to buy construction paper at Woolworth's 5 and dime store. I couldn't make my cards, said Cally, there are 8 girls and 9 boys in my class. That's no so many, said grandmother, I think we always had 28 to 32 kids in each class and then we always made a special gift for the teacher.
Getting that dime would not be easy. Father always reminded me of all the paper I wasted just snipping at it with scissors. After dinner he would sit and read the evening paper so I knew if I timed it right I could get him alone and ask for the dime. After asking I sat by his feet waiting for him to put down the paper. It seemed like I had been sitting there forever when he finally spoke to me. I sat 2 empty soda bottles by the back door last night, said father. You can take those to the store on your way to school tomorrow and get 5 cents each for them. Then he went back to reading his paper.
With my nickels in my pocket I raced off to Woolworth's after school. I flipped through each pack of paper making sure I got a pack with lots of red and pink paper in it. The older kids would have paper left over from other projects, but father was right, I had snipped at mine trying to make paper dolls and used it all up. This time I would put away what I didn't use and not have to go through asking father again.
Was your father mean, asked Cally, were you afraid of him? Oh no, said grandmother, he was a very kind man but money was not something we had a lot of and with 6 children, giving one a dime and not the others was a big problem for him. I guess that's why he gave me the bottles instead of a dime.
Everyday after school and after dinner was cleared away, we all sat together making our cards. Some had hearts while others had arrows. Some were red and some were pink. We had a huge jar of white paste that we used with our fingers to glue the lace and ribbons on. We made envelopes out of brown paper grocery bags. Brown paper would look ugly, said Cally. I guess so, said grandmother, but when we were finished putting glitter on them and useing melted crayons to draw hearts on them, we thought they were beautiful.
Even signing the cards took time. We never just put our names on them. The older kids would write out the alphabet and then write numbers over each letter. Sometimes we wrote it backwards to made it harder to know who the card was from. What do you mean grandmother? Putting numbers over the letters? A would be 1, B would be 2 and so on. Lets see what your name would look like, said grandmother. 3-1-12-12-25, that spells Cally! I like that grandmother, it's like a secret!
Each morning I would wait in line by the teachers desk waiting for my turn to put my cards in the box that I had finished the night before. But grandmother, you said you learned to sew that Valentine's, asked Cally.
While we were busy, mother had her own Valentine's project. She had cut apart some Irish linen she had saved. She crocheted a pretty edge on it, turning it into 6 pretty white hankies for the teachers. In one corner of each hankie she had penciled in a heart. On the 3 hankies the boys would be giving to their teachers she has embroidered a red heart. Now it was time for the girls to embroider their hankies. Mother sat me in her lap and started the heart for me, showing me how she pulled each thread. Then I was sent off to the living room to finish it. I worked on that heart all week, pulling out many stitches that just didn't lay where I thought they would. Finally I finished and was very proud of myself. Mother finished off the back and I wrapped it in tissue paper.
On Valentines Day the teacher would pull 3 more names from the jar. These lucky kids would be the mailmen/mailgirls. The box was opened and the kids delivered the cards to each desk. While we were opening the cards and trying to figure out who sent them, the teacher would give us each a paper cup filled with hard sugar candy hearts, each having a saying on them like "Be Mine". When the day was over, teachers desk would be filled with gifts the kids had made for her. I was very proud to see mine sitting on her desk. At home Mother had put up a string in the kitchen for us to hang our cards on. As I figured out each name and wrote the letters above the numbers, I'd hang it on the string. That night after dinner mother would give us each a cup cake with a powdered sugar heart on it that she had made while we were in school.
Grandmother, said Cally, I want to have your Valentines Day! Can you help me make cards? Of course Cally, let's look in my sewing box and see what we can find. Then Cally wrapped her arm around grandmother and said, Can you teach me to sew a heart on a hankie for my teacher? Cally, it would make me so happy to know I had taught you to embroider, said grandmother. Let's get busy!