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Each year shortly after Christmas, department stores, drug stores and the like turn red. Flower shops advertise bouquets of roses. Little kids pick out their favorite cartoon character Valentines to exchange with their classmates. Everyone scrambles to buy that special someone the perfect Valentine’s gift.
Valentine’s Day was always a big deal for me in elementary school. My mom and I would bake Valentine sugar cookies to be carefully crated to the big party. She would take me to Walmart to choose the perfect box of cartoon character Valentine cards. Somehow my eyes would always wander to the most expensive cards available and she would suggest that perhaps I should go with the 34 plain paper cards instead of the 24 foil ones with the giant stickers. You’d get more at a lower cost, she would tell me.
And then there was the Valentine mailbox. Nearly every year of elementary school, teachers would assign us to make the most magnificent mailbox that our creative little minds could execute and whoever had the grandest of them all would win a special prize.
I never took it too seriously until about the fourth grade. That year, I was sure that I would win the prize. I dug through every closet in the house to find the perfect shoe-box. Once found, I rifled through every piece of construction paper and took out all of the red, pink and white pieces. First I carefully cut and pasted large strips of paper to fit each side of the shoe-box accordingly. Once finished, I drew hearts of every shape and size on the construction paper, cut them out and glued them on the box until I was blue in the face. I took red and pink crayons and drew polka dots on all of the hearts and wrote in my best handwriting “Happy Valentine’s Day!” across the top of the box right above the slit my dad had helped me make on top of the box to make my classmates’ handing out of Valentine’s a simple process.
I sat back and looked at my final product with a sense of pride and confidence. I didn’t know what the special prize was, but I knew it was mine.
Valentine’s Day arrived and I rushed off to school toting my winning mailbox and sugar cookies. Finally, toward the end of the day, it was time for the big party. My sugar cookies were laid out on a decorative vinyl table cloth, complete with confetti in the shape of hearts and I carefully removed my mailbox from the cubby hole and resurrected it proudly atop my desk.
I glanced around at the other mailboxes scattered throughout the classroom and smirked at the messes they had made of their boxes. The prize may as well have already been in my hands.
I was still flying high and gloating on the inside when in walked a mom of one of my fellow classmates. What she carried in her hands was quite possibly the most beautifully constructed Valentine mailbox my eyes had ever met. A castle, a multiple story castle made of cardboard and tin foil, stickers of hearts and Cupid plastered amongst the tin foil, perfectly shaped construction paper hearts hanging from strings on the roof of the castle and a flag in the shape of a beautiful heart doused with glitter on the tip top to create a masterpiece of a mailbox.
My heart sank. I knew I had lost the prize.
It turns out that the prize was a giant heart-shaped lollypop. I thought to myself that it was no big deal. I could probably get Dad to buy me a giant lollypop the next time we went to Cracker Barrel. Who needs one in the shape of a heart anyway?
Sunday, my parents will celebrate 29 years of marriage. When I think about their lives together, I can’t help but look back on my little mailbox and the giant castle created by a classmate.
Perhaps my Daddy hasn’t always been able to provide the biggest or the best things possible, but what sticks out in my mind is the fact that he has always made it work and no matter how hard things have gotten, they’ve continued to love each other no matter what.
They’ve raised two kids together and if I may say so myself, I think they’ve done a pretty good job. They’ve each helped my brother and me get started in life. They’ve provided us with a lot of common sense and we both know that we’re loved. No matter what problems we may face, they’ll always be there to guide us.
So we may have never had a castle, but what we do have is a home and I think that counts for a whole lot. Happy Valentine’s Day and happy anniversary Momma and Daddy.