The Valentine Box: A Bittersweet Memory of Love in the Fifth Grade
“We need a mailbox for our valentines,” said Sister Celine. “Who will volunteer to make one?”
My hand shot up. I was all about arts and crafts. To my surprise, there wasn’t much competition, and Sister chose me. “Remember to bring the box in early on Valentine’s Day,” she said. “We want to collect them throughout the morning; then we’ll choose our mailman and distribute them at lunch.”
That afternoon, I went home and went straight to my father, at work in our family business, a flower shop and garden center. I told him I needed a Valentine’s Day mailbox for school, and he was right on it.
He found a decent-sized cardboard box and neatly covered it in white florist paper secured with tape. Then, taking a sharp knife, he carved out a mail slot.
The great thing about a florist shop is that the craft supplies are abundant: paper, tape, ribbons, wire, stickers, spray paint, you name it. So it was now my job to decorate the box.
I took it home and went at it with crayons, construction paper hearts on doilies, sparkles, and glue. It was magnificent.
(At least that’s how I remember it.)
When the great day came, my father drove me and the box to school so I didn’t have to cope with it on the bus. (Having been a boy himself, my father knew bully bait when he saw it and didn’t want me to be a target.) Ten-year-old boys are notoriously hostile to the whole concept of giving and receiving valentines, a fact to which I was oblivious.
Sister Celine put the mailbox on her desk, first thing in the morning, as promised. Like the other kids, I was anxious to take my turn stuffing my valentines into the box. As per tradition, everyone in the class was supposed to get one from everyone else in the class.
The kids did not always strictly adhere to the rule, but most did and everyone could expect a nice little pile of love notes on their desk when the “mailman” made his rounds. Some kids even sprang for candy: lollipops , Bazooka bubble gum, or Conversation hearts.