From the time we were first introduced through our confused courtship, final confession of our love one wild birthday weekend, and the years of bonding afterwards, we were never particularly sentimental. He always joked that not only had Hallmark invented Valentine’s Day, but saying “I love you” on February 14th – especially if accompanied by a gift – really meant the opposite! So, it became the “day we dare not speak of.”
I did make some funny, funky valentines (I was probably a softie at heart) but there weren’t boxes of chocolates, bouquets of flowers, dates, diners out, or even a special bottle of wine to go with supper. Of course, we were extremely poor; working odd (and odder) jobs, living in the country where I kept the garden, he baked the bread; I used an old wringer washer for our clothes; he kept 2 old cars running with magic and duct tape.
I helped a friend with a donut business (til he finally said enough), helped run a tiny storefront video store, occasionally did office work for our landlord – mostly winter work. He worked summers as a repairman/mechanic for a recreational vehicle business. Sounds much fancier than it was – mostly fixing wiring harnesses, welding on hitches, and general maintenance on trailers folks kept in local trailer parks for summer use.
We made due with what we had; only went to the movie theatre in town for special occasions/special movies (Kenneth Branagh’s Henry the V); dined out at friends’ houses rather than restaurants (except for the occasional splurge on fish and chips). Presents for all and sundry were home made. Can’t say as we were always happy – the life sounds more idyllic as I write it than as we lived it.
The tiny house was cold in the winter; the furnace would kick out, the gas and water lines from the main farm house freeze; we had creatures in our basement – I would go down with a flashlight and a wrench to beat the furnace (and potentially rats) back into submission. So, winter was a long hard season, snow drifts cutting us off from town, and light from windows. Trudging home through waist high snow in moonless darkness with images of frozen bodies propelling me along. Wind that ripped the words from your mouth.
Ah, but this is supposed to be a Valentine’s story. Let’s just say, one Feb. 14th, after a particularly hard fall and winter, I found a small square on the kitchen counter. It was shades of red and white, folded over and and over, and held in place with a paper clip. Carefully, opening it, I found something I’d never seen before: a $50. bill (In Canada at the time, these were red). He had saved it from a fall job – paid in cash – and kept it a secret until the day of which we did not speak. Fifty dollars of “fun money:” new nibs and ink for my calligraphy; a purse without a broken zipper and strap; a “new-to-me-outfit,” and some non-Valentine dark chocolate for him. The first and last “one of those days” gifts he ever gave me. Doesn’t matter. It would have always been the best.