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Column: Be My Valentine

Remember those Valentine's Days when you were a kid?

They always happened on a school day somehow.

At least, that's how it seemed.

Exchanging valentines was one of the biggest events of the school year.

I remember loading up with the five-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-alec 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 the smallest, most insignificant cards I could find. Thank goodness, the five and dime stores existed then.

You see, it was an unwritten rule that each classmate had to receive something from you. Everyone got rated and clearly put in their place by the quality of the cards received. If you got some "dimers," for instance, you knew you were well-liked.

I carried two grocery bags on this particular day, one for dispensing and the other 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 president of the Van Horn 4th grade.

I arrived on the playground with my sacks, looking first for the obligatory kids who would receive my five-for-a-penny cards. I wanted to get that over so I could 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 received our cards. The best we 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 Alice 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 thought that half the kids were still holding their big cards for me. That feeble bit of self-confidence got shattered 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 remember was when I was a high school freshman. Maybe I should set the scene. In the early 1940's, the Kansas City public school system had no 8th grade. From 7th grade elementary school, you went right into 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 second day when the huge physical education teacher ordered all of us freshman 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 insecure around girls. Boys were okay, but Mary Alice and some others had a really negative impact on my fragile ego. I examined the ground a lot when girls were around.

Anyhow, during the fall I discovered a girl in one of my classes who was almost my size. I never talked to 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 get her attention.

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

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

But I knew Corky Benson wasn't. He was 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 box which I took to Corky along with a "dimer" card. I asked him if he would give these two tokens of my love to Peggy.

Perhaps you can guess what happened?

Corky 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."

After that day, Corky and I sort of went our separate ways.

Peggy and I never spoke to each other during the rest of that year.

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

I was already making plans to ask her to a movie.

Next Valentine's Day!

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