February 8, 2007

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Nashua Publisher's Note: Will you be my Valentine?
By Jeff Rapsis

I’ve never been a big fan of Valentine’s Day, but it’s not because I’m down on romance. On the contrary, I like to stay at home on rainy Saturday afternoons and read poetry out loud to my two dogs while my wife does the housework.

No — the real reason I’ve had a lifelong lover’s quarrel with Valentine’s Day probably dates back to the way it was celebrated at Amherst Street Elementary School when I was a kid.

Back then, sending and receiving Valentine’s Day cards among classmates was a major enterprise, as I’m sure it still is today. But to my third-grade-sized brain, any special meaning the occasion might have held was diminished because we were REQUIRED to send Valentines to ALL our classmates.

I suppose that’s very egalitarian and helped prevent bruised egos and so on. But it also turned the exercise into just that—an exercise in putting together a big stack of cards asking everyone to be my Valentine, even the kids I was told not to play with at recess.

I mean, what do you say to the girl who was caught turning a tin can out behind the school into a toilet?

I recall one year, when we were first learning how to write in cursive, we actually had our Valentines graded on penmanship before we could release them to their recipients. How’s that for encouraging romantic whimsy?

This glum chore was made even more frustrating one year when I cranked out all my Valentines at home the night before the big exchange, only to find I had signed them all not as “From Jeff R.” but “FORM Jeff R.”

But that was many years ago, and the scars have long healed. Now I think Valentine’s Day is a wonderful chance to remind us all that it’s important to nod our heads in the direction of thoughtfulness and even romance, as idealized by Hallmark and Russell-Stover and other fine corporations.

And if you’re as conflicted and generally as clueless about Valentine’s Day as I am, then this week’s Hippo is designed to help you out. In fact, it could save you form certain embarrassment.

Wait — make that FROM certain embarrassment.