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Column: Penny valentine heartbreak still stings

Next Friday is special.

Remember those Valentine's Days when you were young?

How come they always occurred on a school day?

At least, that's how it seemed back in the 1930s when I was a kid.

I recall loading up with 5-for-a-penny valentines that I would give to classmates who were far down on my list of friends. Hallmark hadn't yet invented their line of classic smart-alecky cards or surely I would have selected from their clever stock. But to show my disdain, and in several cases, dislike, of certain boys and girls, I gave them my smallest, most insignificant cards I could find.

Back then teachers insisted that each classmate had to receive something from you. Everyone got rated and put in their place by the quality of the cards received. If you got some nickel cards, for instance, you knew you were very well-liked.

I carried two grocery bags on this particular day, one for dispensing and one for receiving. Such was my confidence that the latter was twice as large as the former. I anticipated hauling in the biggies. After all, I was class president of the Van Horn Elementary School fourth grade.

I arrived in the playground with my sacks, looking first for the obligatory kids who would receive my 5-for-a-penny cards. I wanted to get that over so I could really enjoy the rest of the day. We all did it the same way. We passed out our cheap cards before the first bell so we could enjoy the recesses and lunch period exchanging cards with the kids we liked. The better we liked them, the later in the day they got our cards. The best was always saved for right after school.

I knew the day wasn't going to be one of my best when the prettiest girl in class, Mary Ellen Benton, gave me a "pennier" before the first bell. So did 13 other kids. That was half the class. Had they forgotten I was their president?

But I was sustained by the expectation that half the kids were still holding their cards for me. That feeble bit of self-confidence got knocked over when all but Buster Wilcox gave me their cards at morning recess. He was my best friend; he held out until lunch. It was one of the worst Valentine's Day of my life!

The next Valentine's Day I still remember was when I was a high school freshman. In the 1940s, The Kansas City, Mo., school system had no eighth grade. From the seventh grade, you went right to high school. No transition, no time to gather yourself - you just got thrown in with all those big high school students.

I entered that forbidding place as the smallest boy in school, which I discovered on the first day when the huge physical education teacher ordered all of us freshmen boys to line up by height. I kept getting shoved down the line until I found myself at the end.

Maybe I should explain that I was, at that age, painfully shy and totally insecure around girls. Boys were okay, but Mary Ellen and some others had an impact on my fragile ego. I examined the ground a lot when girls were around.

Anyhow, during the fall semester I discovered a girl in one of my classes who was almost my size. I never got up the gumption to approach her or anything like that, but over Thanksgiving I began thinking that maybe she'd like to go to a movie or something. I decided to make my move on Valentine's Day. That's when I would win her heart. The high school teachers paid no attention to Valentine's Day, so I figured that whatever I did might be a big deal.

Throughout Christmas vacation, I considered how to ask her to be my Valentine. It was all I could think about, it seemed. I arrived at, and discarded, at least 50 potential plans. All of them had one big flaw.

I couldn't talk to her. I was just too scared!

But I knew Bobby Cox wasn't. He was then my best friend. So I went to Stover's candy store where they sold the best chocolates in town - they were the best because they were made right there in Kansas City - and bought a small box which I took to Bobby along with a "dimer" card. I asked him to give these two tokens of my love to Margaret.

Perhaps you can guess what happened.

Bobby ate most of the chocolates before handing them over to "my girl." Then before lunch they decided to go steady.

And that afternoon she handed me a "pennier."

Margaret and I hardly spoke during the remaining years of high school.

But that didn't much matter, because a few weeks later I spotted another girl who had a really friendly smile.

I was already planning to ask her to a movie.

Next Valentine's Day!

Dr. Ron Barnes is a retired educator and businessman.

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