When my mother’s cousin wrote recently, lamenting the fact that many of the houses on my long-dead grandmother’s street had been torn down, I wasn’t upset. The city probably took action to prevent the spread of crazy cooties. The street seemed a haven for the oddball, the eccentric, and the bat-sh*t crazy. They swept their sidewalks, held down jobs, and fed their children. Beyond that, raising kids meant sending them outside to play. And we could stay out long after dark. No wonder I liked staying there.
Valentine’s Eve was a big deal. The tradition was to deliver valentines after dark, depositing the little cards on porches, stomping on said porch, then running away before anyone could get to the door. Sure, there were doorbells, but jumping up and down was more fun. We had Valentine boxes at school, but ‘hood deliveries had intrigue.
I’d hear the stamping feet and turn on the porch light, scamper out, and pick up the white envelopes. I’d made my deliveries early, so as not to miss any of my own.
One of the stomps was always by the much older Barker twins, who lived in the next block. Valentine’s Eve was their one foray into pretend sociability. The twins were from one of the “not right” families. They never played with the other kids and it was rumored that their daddy beat their momma with his wooden leg.
Their card was easy to spot–it was never in an envelope–and the string they’d tied to it was visible. I knew they planned to yank it out of reach as soon as I went for it. I could have simply ignored it and gone back inside, leaving them squatting in disappointment in the hydrangeas, but I didn’t. I’d reach for that valentine and they’d jerk the string and laugh in the darkness as they ran up the street to the next sucker. I’d go back inside, wishing I’d tried to step on it instead.
Other than on Numnut Avenue, I never knew any other children who followed that custom. Was it a holdover from Victorian times or a sneaky custom followed by Romanian gypsies? On that street, it could have been either.
NPR had a segment yesterday about “The Dark Origins of Valentine’s Day” and it made me think of the Barker twins. More aptly, their daddy, since one of the traditions involved beating women with animal skins.
Much more fun to think about today is the six-word love story challenge offered by the NYTimes and Smith Magazine. Darn it, “Love’s like chocolates. Picked, processed, pooped.” has already been submitted. Got one of your own? Spill it, clever ones! Here’s a link to the story in case you’d like to send it in to the Times, but do share it here, too!