Valentine Memories

By Regina Villiers.  Originally published February 10, 1993 in the Suburban Life, added February 15, 2016.

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Scraps of construction paper, mostly red, pink, and white, laboriously cut by small hands into hearts and pieces of lace and then pasted and fashioned into valentines.

As I sort through them and read their penciled sentiments, I can see again the faces of their makers, and I am back again in a schoolroom peopled by a class of 8-year-olds.

It was 1971, and one of the several years that I served as room mother for my two sons. I served so often that I almost became a professional room mother when they were growing up. I was a logical choice. I had been a teacher for a time who loved kids, and as a mother, my yard served as the neighborhood park, complete with baseball and football fields.

I enjoyed all my room-mother years, but this one was the most memorable. The special group of children provided most of the magic, but some of it was due to a good teacher, Jo VanBlaricum.

Mrs. VanBlaricum, who died several years ago of cancer, was from the South, a charming woman with sinews of steel, when need be, but who also mothered the children. She not only made sure they learned in school, but she looked after their welfare elsewhere.

She lived in my neighborhood. Once when she saw my young son playing with another child, she came to me and said: “Kelly needs another friend. That boy is bad news.” And indeed he was.

As room mother, I served as chaperone on field trips, but my biggest duty was to host and give the parties at holidays.

The parties were loads of fun, but the valentine party that year was the most fun of all. By then, the children and I knew each other well. We had bonded, and real affection flowed between us.

After the games and refreshments that day, a large valentine box in the center of the room was opened, and the children exchanged valentines, with each child receiving a stack.

Then Mrs. VanBlaricum motioned to a student who arose and proudly brought to me a packet made from sheets of red construction paper and decorated with pink hearts. It was stuffed with handmade valentines, one from each of them for me.

As I looked at them, amid the kids’ excited squeals, nothing had ever touched me more.

I carefully brought them home, and I kept them. Each and every one, to this day.

As I look at them now, each one brings back a face and a memory. Some of the memories are continuous. I met some of the same children again, as their room mother in the 5th grade. Some of them turned up even later when I worked at Madeira High School and served as the school newspaper advisor.

But some of the children were not around as high school students or as grown-ups.

Here is Pete Miller’s valentine. Pete moved away a year or so later. I have no idea what happened to him, but he’s probably an architect. I remember his hobby, building intricate houses and towns from popsicle sticks.

Another one not here is Allen Johnson. Allen’s card read: “To: Mrs. Villiers. Rose are red, violets are blue, and so are you. I LOVE YOU!!!! From Allen Johnson.”

In high school, Allen died in a car accident.

Every class always has a troublemaker, and this class had Jeff, who could not keep his body still or his mouth closed. Jeff also liked me—a lot—which meant he acted up even more in my presence. He moved out of town a year or so later.

Donna Hyatt stayed around and was my student again in high school. A good student, her valentine is one of the better ones, well constructed, with all the words neatly printed and spelled correctly. Ever neat and precise, Donna probably still is.

I also met Kim Miller and Jana Rahe again in high school, where both starred on the state championship volleyball team that I wrote about and followed to tournaments with my media pass. Kim’s valentine says: “To Mrs. V., you are a very nice room mother. Love, Kim Miller.”

Mark Edinton’s elaborate card says: “To a very nice room mother. Thank you for all the things you have done this year.” Mark, one of my all-time favorite kids, lived down the street from me and gave me my only May basket. He hung the tiny basket of flowers on the door, rang the bell, and ran like crazy. Mark grew up to be an airline pilot, and I still see him when he’s in town visiting his parents.

Some of the cards were gushy and filled with sentiment. Teresa Heilman’s covered with hearts saying, “I love you,” had this message: “Dear Mrs. Villiers, I like you so much please be my lovely valentine, from Theresa. Oh, how I love you.” The sentiment was repeated in another spot on the large card. She even gave me two valentines, one a store-bought one.

Some cards were anonymous, either by design or omission. One, about postage-stamp size and in a tiny envelope, says: “15 hugs and 20 kisses.” Nothing else.

Another one with no name is perhaps the prettiest. An almost perfect circle of white construction paper has been made into a doily by cutting out tiny hearts and diamond shapes. Layers of red, yellow, and blue hearts are pasted on the doily. It only says” “Dear Mrs. Villiers, Thank you for everything. Happy Valentine Day.” No signature.

Though unsigned, my son’s card was dead giveaway and an omen. Kelly’s talent has always been the written word, and his interest was sports. His valentine is a red heart, folded in half, and decorated with three black hearts from a ballpoint pen. On one half of the card, he wrote, “Valentine Day. Madeira-62, Milford-55. Time-00:00.” (The latest basketball score.) Kelly grew up to major in journalism. Today, he is a columnist and sports writer for a daily newspaper in Georgia.

Hearts and names—some scribbled, others carefully printed—Greg Bringham, Tom Plaut, Karen Mc., Denise Colston, Susan E., Hope, Patty Proffitt, Karen Sue Wolfe, Tom, Jamey, Frank, Todd, Kris Freese, Clark, Tracey Kennedy, Skip Hahnert, David Wick…

A wealth of memories and images of childlike faces, frozen in time, to be remembered and brought to life each Valentine Day.

Happy Valentine, kids, wherever you are.