Valentine’s Day is not something that I have ever celebrated. Actually, that’s not entirely true; I did celebrate when I was in elementary school.
The week leading up to Valentine’s Day always found my class busily working on making construction paper cards for each other during our art session. To this day, I can’t smell glue and construction paper without remembering the many Valentine’s Day cards we made every year for each other. By Valentine’s Day, everyone had a shoebox under their seat stuffed with cards. Our parents would also bring in homemade treats for us to enjoy. My all-time favorites were the sticky artificially colored popcorn balls and vanilla cupcakes with pink icing.
We dressed up, my girlfriends and me. It was, after all, a party, and during this particular year, I was nine years old and in the fourth grade. Taking pride in what I look like has always been important. Even growing up with almost nothing didn’t stop me from leaving the house put together. I loved shopping at the local thrift stores and still do. I would spend quite a bit of time looking for the biggest bang for my buck—literally a buck (i.e., one dollar). Keep in mind that this was the ‘70s and things were a lot cheaper back then.
A few days before our fourth grade Valentine’s Day party, I went shopping for my party outfit. The nearest thrift store was only two blocks away, and having finished my homework, I was free to spend my time outside however I wanted. When I finished scouring the store for my pink outfit—I loved pink (note that “loved” is past tense), I went up to the counter and handed over my outfit to Lupe. Lupe, or Lupita as we called her, was our neighbor’s daughter and was working the register that afternoon. She looked at the little paper that was stapled to the first item with a hand-written price and said out loud, “ten cents,” and then rang it up on the register.
Lupita was my Valentine that year because the ten-cent item wasn’t actually ten cents; it was 25 cents. She rang up the correct price, but she read aloud a significantly reduced price—reduced considerably in the mind of a nine-year-old.
After she did this with the first two items, I began to think that she was mentally impaired or maybe she had failed basic math—remember, I was only nine years old. I remember trying to correct her, but she stopped me and said, “No, it says ten cents,” and winked at me. I shut my mouth and smiled—I was not a dumb kid. I realized that she was saying the wrong price out loud for the benefit of the customer behind me. When she was done, she said, “The total is 50 cents. You are very good at finding deals.” I knew she would pay the extra that she hadn’t charged me. She was well aware of our financial struggles, and even though her family was not well off, she had helped me while allowing me to retain my dignity.
I remember her stapling the receipt to the paper bag, handing it to me, and saying, “Happy Balentine’s Day, mija.” Mija means daughter in Spanish but is often used as a term of endearment, meaning dear or honey. I spelled Valentine with a “B” instead of a “V” because Lupita, like many members of my family, pronounced the “v” as a “b” as is done in the Spanish language.
As an adult, I have not celebrated the “holiday” based on my belief that no one should feel pressured to express their love based on superficial commercialism. More importantly, if someone expresses their love, they should not do so with the expectation of anything in return. I have nothing against Valentine’s Day, and in fact, I cherish my childhood memories.
This year, I’ve decided to do something different rather than ignore the holiday. First, I’m going to rename it Balentine’s Day—it gives the day greater meaning—to me anyway. Second, as Lupita did, I will show love and kindness to friends, family, and those less fortunate with no expectation of anything in return and certainly with as much dignity as I can offer.
Happy Balentine’s Day!