Affairs of the Heart

Steve Haley


Steve Haley


Feb 21, 2024

Affairs of the Heart

As Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, "In spring, a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”

Valentine's Day was always an exciting time for the Eagles of Guthrie Elementary as we looked forward to our class party. Exchanging Valentine's Day cards with our friends was an annual event.

A top priority was creating a unique desktop mailbox. Those who had just received shoes for Christmas found the empty boxes to be a perfect card receptacle. We used our round-tipped scissors to cut out hearts from red construction paper. Our hearts, drawn by hand, were all lopsided, regardless of who drew them.  At the top of the heart's curvature, one side was consistently larger than the other. Some would try to make their hearts more uniform by using a simple compass. Often the compass legs were difficult to adjust, resulting in hearts poorly shaped. I once tried tracing a penny to draw the heart curves, but they still weren’t quite perfect.

Artistic students created a frieze of cupids. Their stick figures shot arrows on their shoeboxes. Cutting a slit on the box lid allowed us to drop our affectionate phrases inside.

Some didn't have shoe boxes, so they had to think of other creative ways to make a mail drop. A paper mail pouch was created by folding, stapling, or taping sheets of notebook paper. After drawing and coloring, the decorated pouches were taped to desks for the card collection.

After completing the mail drops, we shifted our focus toward the cards. Gray's Drug Store and Bentley's Five & Dime sold  boxes of 32 valentines with accompanying envelopes.

The boxes of  cards resembled Halloween costume boxes. Only a layer of clear plastic separated our imaginations from the box's contents. Despite tilting and peaking, we could never be sure about the cards’ sentiments.

The teacher distributed a list of classmates, with separate columns for boys and girls, and we were instructed to give a card to everyone.

After arriving home from the store, we spread out our Valentine's cards on the table. My goal was always to match my classmates' personalities with the pictures. The enclosed envelopes were flimsy and often had too little glue to keep the flaps closed.   There was always one card that said, 'I love you,' and I kept that card aside, hoping that I would never have to use it. I was too shy to use that card.

Party day was filled with excitement, and everyone eagerly looked forward to it. We arranged our homemade mail drops, and at the instruction of the teacher, we stood up one at a time to deliver our Valentines and then return to our seats.  

Sometimes we were allowed to open our cards before partaking in the refreshments. Occasionally, one of the girls might shriek, “YUCK,” or “Ahhhhhhhhhh.” These statements usually signaled that someone received the “I Love You” Valentine. We could then expect a note to be passed around asking, “Do you love me? Check ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”

Homemade cupcakes made by some of the moms were the typical event finale. Given a choice of vanilla or chocolate, each cupcake had ample icing. Sweethearts–small, heart-shaped, chalky sugar candies that tasted like wedding mints and  imprinted with a message such as "Be Mine," "Kiss Me," "Call Me," or "Miss You" – also known as “conversation” hearts- were typically added as each cupcake’s decor.  A Dixie cup of Kool-Aid completed our elementary Valentine’s banquet.  

After I got home, I read and reread my Valentines before putting them in my desk drawer. Not surprisingly, over time they were all discarded. My good friend and fellow Robertson County Commissioner Eric Roberts told me that his mom kept her childhood Valentines and used them to decorate her home with childhood mementos during the holiday. How wonderful it must have been to have a constant reminder of those childhood  friendships and affections!

About the author:

Steve Haley spent his childhood in Guthrie, KY during the 1960s and 1970s. He loves to recount the stories of his extraordinary ordinary upbringing in a small Southern town with his many friends. If you have any comments or suggestions, you can email him at Setsof4Haley@ATT.Net or call/text him at 615.483.2573

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