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Hearts and Flowers

 Because I’m a seamstress, I have plenty of holiday-themed table linens, so I spent this morning washing and ironing some of them and setting out Valentine’s decorations. As I was ironing (something I realize most people don’t do at all anymore, even for their clothing, much less for cloth napkins), it occurred to me that most people don’t put out many seasonal holiday decorations in their homes anymore either. Oh, they may put up a Christmas tree, or dye eggs to fill a basket at Easter, or set out pumpkins at the front door on Halloween, but unless they have a family with children, that’s usually about the extent of seasonal decorating. All my fuss over relatively minor holidays makes me something of an anomaly, I know.

     My grandmother, with whom we lived while I was growing up, was a real curmudgeon long before she had accumulated enough age to be entitled to an attitude (if you ever are). When birthdays or Christmas or other holidays rolled around, she would scoff Scrooge-like and say, “Nothing to it. Just another day of the year.”

     To which my Mother would reply, with unfailing good humor, “Well, Mom, nothing’s special unless you make it so.” That became my mantra: I choose to make it so.

     Years ago when I was teaching in a large, urban high school in Connecticut, I never let even minor occasions go unnoticed. I’d bring in themed cookies or snacks (that was when you were allowed to bring in food) or plan a little fun holiday game with prizes, and of course, I’d put up appropriate  decorations. For Christmas, when we weren’t allowed to display only religious symbols such as a tree or a menorah, I really went over the top with decorations not just for Christmas and Hanukkah, but also for other holidays celebrated by our students at that time of year: Kwanzaa, Dinali, Posadas Navideñas, Têt and the Chinese New Year, even Boxing Day for good measure. My classroom looked like a clearance sale at  Party City. The kids would laugh, and roll their eyes, but then bring in additional decorations of their own to add to the mix. “If you’re gonna’ go over the top,” they’d tease, “then you may as well go big!”

     Nothing is special unless you make it so, and everyone likes to feel special.

     Not surprisingly, I’m also a big greeting-card sender. A friend of mine in Connecticut owned the local Hallmark store where I distinguished myself as one of the very first Gold Crown Rewards card holders. “Keep sending those Hallmarks,” she’d urge every time I came into the store. “I’ve got two kids to send to college and that takes a lot of greeting cards.” (She did send both kids to college, by the way, and one of them grew up to become the largest, most successful Hallmark franchise owner in NewEngland. I like to think that I contributed to his success.)

     Social critics (like me) might criticize the stereotypical images of the perfect home and the perfect family often portrayed on greeting cards, and cynics (like me) might find fault with the saccharine messages too often found inside. Yet, an actual greeting card chosen with a particular recipient in mind, hand-signed and accompanied by a brief note, and then sent through the mail, beats a text message or an e-card in eliciting “specialness” every time, if for no other reason than it can be saved and enjoyed over and over again. I even use cards as decorations, especially the beautiful pop-ups so popular now. As those Hallmark commercials always proclaimed, “When you care enough…”

     I certainly don’t consider myself a romantic by any stretch of the definition, but I do care enough — about relationships, about letting those who matter to me know they are valued, and about sharing little things that can make us all feel special. That may mean decorating the house for holidays with my family, setting an inviting table even for routine dinners, or remembering birthdays, anniversaries, and other personal occasions. To a great extent, the cards and notes I’ve written and received, and yes, the phone calls and e-mails and e-cards too, have been the connections that have kept me from feeling so isolated and alone all through this pandemic, but more importantly, connections like that have enabled me, an only child with a small family, to sustain many life-long friendships that have spanned the intervening years and miles between us for decades.   

     So, bring on the hearts and flowers this Valentine’s Day and make all those you love feel special. Heck, make yourself feel special with some chocolates or a bouquet of roses.  After all, Valentine’s Day is not just another day.

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