Remember when the local newspaper used to print Valentine messages in the Feb. 14 edition of the paper?
This was an exciting day for many (and nerve-wrecking for some), with mostly teenagers probably pouring over that section, waiting to see if their feelings were reciprocated, or if the relationship was as serious as they had hoped.
Heck, I’m sure there are some who ripped through the section, only to come away scared off by just how serious someone was about them.
Many came away disappointed. Many emerged very happy, their Valentine’s Day off to a stellar start.
Whoever came up with this idea was a genius. This is a salesperson straight out of “Mad Men.” He or she simply has to be making boatloads of dough off Super Bowl commercials nowadays.
The rates were doable, making placing a sweet sentiment something a teenager with barely any of their Christmas money left over, or with a job that — at the time — paid them around five bucks an hour, in a position to be their own Cyrano.
If I recall correctly it was a per line rate, which behooved said Cyrano to embrace brevity. And there was a lot of Cyrano going on. I personally wrote many for friends for whom the words wouldn’t come; still others were placing ads using aliases, so as to secretly send a message. There was a lot of “I know that’s you!” shouted in the high school hallways when the 14th landed on a weekday.
The secrets could be because the ad-placer had a boyfriend or a girlfriend and was placing this for someone else, or the receiver had a significant other and the sender didn’t want a butt-kicking. Other times the secrecy was because what was simmering was sweet and just that — a secret. Theirs. For now. The precious now.
I’m not sure when the Valentine message gimmick fell away, but I placed my final one sometime around 1987 or 1988. And it was secret. Beautiful. Ours.
I’d gotten a few too, and watched many a friend arrive at school despondent, no ad for them to be found.
It reminded me of the popular Charlie Brown special of my childhood, where he keeps going to the mailbox, cautiously optimistic that there will be a Valentine’s Day card delivered for him. The same kid who for whatever reason was getting rocks thrown in his sack by grown-ups when trick-or-treating just a few months earlier. Alas, it was not meant to be. Poor Chuck.
Of course, as was always the case in the classic “Peanuts” specials of my youth, man’s best friend had so many Valentines his little red doghouse was covered in them. Yep, the ladies loved Snoopy. Perhaps so much there was just none left over for his hapless owner. We’ll never know.
This Charlie Brown Valentine special (”Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown”) was so powerful that grade schools across America saw to it that on Valentine’s Day there would be an allotted period of time where the kiddies gave out cards, and you had to make one up for every classmate. Not one kid could be left out, no matter how minimal the contact or perhaps even great the dislike. What you wrote in the card was up to you, obviously, but there were to be no Charlie Brown moments.
No one going home with not one single card or — evidently worse — going home with a ton of cards, but not from every single classmate, drawing more attention to the lackluster relationships in the classroom.
This was probably taking place long before this “Peanuts” special began airing in January of 1975, but as a child of the ‘70s it always felt like everything went hand-in-hand with Chuck, Linus, Lucy, the wicked red-haired girl who was stingy with her affections, the inaudible adults, and so on.
Nowadays, though, such a Valentines tradition would prove futile (except for the true wee ones), as social media has rendered all of this stuff moot. Sadly, it has taken that glorious gimmick in the newspaper with it.
Roses can be sent to classmates in middle school, from friend to friend and crush to crush, and that is all well and good, and there surely must be the same fevered anticipation as the deliveries are being made, sitting at your desk, waiting to hear your name called. The possibility of that Charlie Brown moment lives on. But being covert has never been more easy, or more on trend. That is to say, a DM or “snap” could easily come said child’s way.
It’s too bad it is not the same, though. It’s too bad my children never got to peer into the mailbox and see envelopes of yellow and cloud blue and the eagerly-anticipated red. An e-card, with a song that plays upon clicking on it, while a big balloon emoji that inflates right before your eyes on your device is great and all, but it ain’t your name in cursive, the handwriting of a crush - or crusher — for all to see, to be forever kept, stowed away in a shoebox for decades.
But I suppose there is always the screenshot.