Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Valentine Letters

The Valentine Letters

Here it was February 6th and I still hadn’t decided on what to get my wife and daughter for Valentine’s. I had been shopping for that special present, which would portray my deep feelings for the two most special women in my life. This year I was having an extremely difficult time with this task.

In years past, I would simply buy an expensive red sweater, a gold bracelet or necklace, combine it with a sweet valentine card and I would be done. The cards would most always be poetic, penned by an unknown author. This unknown writer was paid by Hallmark to crank out a multitude of sweet messages, offering a bit of variety in the messages, so that all the insensitive and non-talented, husbands and boyfriends, like myself, would have a choice of sweet sayings and heart felt lines of poetic words, to hopefully impress and possibly convince their loved one that they were sensitive and emotionally endearing. My wife and my daughter were always pleased with these tokens of affection, but I knew they fell way short as to what I really felt and even though my wife and daughter feigned being surprised and pleased, I knew my attempt failed miserably.

I remember signing my very first Valentine card when I was in the second grade. My Mother had purchased a box of the cheap, cartoon type, children’s valentines and informed me that if I wanted to give one classmate a card, I would have to give every classmate a card. She explained that if I only gave one person a card, that it would hurt the other classmate’s feelings and to make me further understand she gave me an example. She questioned me as to whom did I want to give a card to. I answered without hesitation, “Diane Gwen and Ricky Gallaher.”

She looked at me with a slight smile on her face and said, “Now what if Diane gave Ricky a valentine card but did not give you one?”

She waited a moment, studying my face as I wrestled with the idea myself, trying to find a way to argue the point, but finally realizing that like always, she was right. I bowed my head as if ashamed and began thumbing through the meaningless cards before me, saying under my breath, “Yeah….. I guess your right.” As I began to shuffle through the cards, studying them in detail I looked at my Mother and asked, “But can I give Diane the one with the bear on it and Ricky the one with the dog? They would like those.”

“Sure you can. You see if they realize you know them as well as you do, by picking out the bear and the dog for them, then they will know you think their special.” My mom said this with a hint of pride, hugging me, realizing that I had begun to understand the concept of friendship and love.

Here I am fifty years later and struggling with the same concept, and this time I can’t give one the bear and the other the dog! So I pull into Jared’s Jewelry store determined to find those special trinkets that captures the feelings I have for these two special people in my life.

There was a middle-aged lady, standing behind the jewelry counter, and as I entered the store she smiled and asked if I needed any help. I could not help but think she saw the desperation on my face as I entered but I tried to be cool and simply said I was “just looking.” I walked around the jewelry cases, studying the necklaces and bracelets, trying to picture what they would look like on my wife and daughter. Most of the pieces of jewelry had their prices hidden; the tag turned upside down, or coded such that I could only guess at the price. Eventually the nice middle-aged lady approached me once again and simply said that if I had any questions that she would attempt to answer them for me. Giving in to her offer, I explained to her that I was looking for something very special for my wife and daughter for Valentines. I continued explaining to her that I wanted it to mean something. It had to be special.

She questioned me as to their ages, and did they prefer white or yellow gold, necklaces or bracelets, diamonds or gem stones. After answering all of her questions to the best of my ability she took me to the far end of the counter and opened the case beneath. She selected a LeVian, 14k Gold, Diamond & Raspberry Rhodolite necklace. It was a teardrop pendant of raspberry Rhodolite, surrounded by intense round chocolate and white diamonds, suspended on an 18 inch cable chain. It was pretty…………................. It was nice………......................... It was $799.99.

The nice lady handed it to me to hold and I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with it. Was I to bite the diamonds to make sure they were real or spit on the gold cable chain to see if it turned blue? Maybe I would shock her and ask her to clasp it around my neck. I studied the workmanship in the piece of jewelry and it truly was beautiful. The lady then said, “This particular piece has been extremely popular this Valentines. We’ve sold ten this week. Your wife would love it.”

“I’m sure she would.” At least till she realized that the neighbor down the street had the same necklace given to her by her dorky husband! “Thank-you so much for helping me, this necklace is really pretty, but I need to find something………..

“Special?” She finished my sentence for me, and I simply nodded and handed her the $799.99 necklace back. I started to ask her if she had a necklace that had a bear on it and one that had a dog on it but I don’t think she would have understood. I walked out empty handed once again.

By the time I was in junior highschool and I had reached puberty, Valentine’s Day had a whole different meaning to me. It was much different than what my Mother had taught me back in the second grade. With hormones raging in both the boys and the girls, Valentine’s Day was the day of ‘Reckoning’ for most. The strategy was simple. You picked the best looking girl which you felt you might have a chance with, and put all your efforts into that one girl. You saved every dime from your allowance and you’re mowing of lawns to buy her the most grandiloquent card and gaudy piece of jewelry you could afford. You would present it to her and then sit back and enjoy the hugs and kisses that came your way. In a way this was exactly the opposite of what my Mother had taught me back in the second grade. Now you didn’t worry about the other peoples feelings, because in reality there were no feelings at all. You simply gave a gift, an acknowledgement of sorts to someone you thought was attractive, and if your strategy worked you got paid back in the form of attention and possibly a little affection. Life was simple.

College days were even better. I don’t know if it was the result of all the education or simply gained experience in relationships but by the time I reached college, I realized that going steady, dating, and showing extreme affection toward a girl was the best thing I could do to keep life interesting and subdue the stress of studies, although it was important to realize that for three months, December, January and February, one had to stay out of a relationship. I discovered that if you were not in a relationship during those three months then there would be no Christmas presents to buy and I would not have to worry about the Valentine’s Day gift or card at all. All the expectations that surrounded these two special holidays were eliminated, simply by avoiding a relationship during this time. I don’t want you to think that I was being cheap or cold hearted, because in reality the relationships I speak of were rather shallow to begin with. One of the relationships was based primarily on the fact that she and I drank the same kind of beer, and we could easily share a pitcher at the neighborhood watering hole without much discussion or debate. In my eyes, we were very much compatible and in an entrusting relationship. Even though this immature strategy worked for me in college, I don’t think my Wife or daughter would like the idea of me breaking it off with them for three months out of the year, and to tell you the truth, I would not like it either, because our relationship is meaningful, it is deep and heartfelt. That is why I have to find that special gift for both of them. You’re probably wondering how I’ve managed to find the perfect gifts for them in the past. I have been married thirty years now and my daughter is twenty-four, and I don’t think I have ever given them what they deserved. I can give them my love, my devotion, my respect and trust, but to find that present, that gift, or that card that expresses all this seems to be beyond my capabilities. So I continue to search, debating all the options, how best to show my love.

I spent the rest of the afternoon on-line searching for romantic weekend getaway destinations such as the Bahamas, Virgin Islands and even considered a Bed & Breakfast in Hot Springs, North Carolina for my Wife and I. I studied several Adventure weekend getaways for my daughter and I. Several of these appeared to be promising and I decided that, yes, I would have to do some of these but not for Valentine’s Day. There was no way I could whisk my Wife or my daughter off for a long weekend, without some in depth planning on my part and also had to have their input for their schedules. It would not be a surprise.

After several days of frustration, visits to the mall, more jewelry stores, and on-line searching I gave up. I decided that once again I would buy one of those cheesy Hallmark Valentine cards, throw in a sweater and a box of chocolates and be done with it; after all they had to know how much I loved them.

That’s when it hit me. The second grade when my mother said, “If you know them that well, they will realize what you chose was special for them.” I knew then what I would do for my wife and daughter. I would simply write them, in my own words a letter, expressing how I felt for each of them. How much they each meant to me. I was on a mission now, not to find a card, a necklace, or a box of candy but rather the right words that mirrored my heart. This was not going to be easy!

The letter I wrote to my wife is as follows:

To Rhonda, My Dear Wife,

Let me first say that I am so sorry that I don’t tell you how much I love you more than I do. It’s not because I don’t feel the love, it’s simply because I run out of ways to say it in a meaningful way. The way it deserves to be said to you.

I don’t pretend to know what love is to everyone, but I know what it is for me: Love is knowing all about someone, and still wanting to be with them more than any other person, love is trusting them enough to tell them everything about yourself, including the things that you might be ashamed of, love is feeling comfortable and safe with someone, but still getting weak knees when they walk into the room and smile at you. I guess in a way, love is just a word, until someone like you comes along and gives it meaning.

I spent many years looking for the right woman. The woman I could live with the rest of my life, instead I found you, the woman I could not live without.

I thank God everyday for bringing you into my life. You inspire me to be a better than I would have been on my own, teaching me to laugh and see the joy in life. You have given me your unconditional love and demanded nothing in return. You have been an unselfish mother to our daughter, sacrificing your time and energy to give her a better life and even after a hard day at work, an afternoon full of running errands and car pools you still find time for me. You give me that smile, you have my undivided attention, you give me that laugh, you have my urge to laugh with you, when you cry, you have my urge to hold you, but when you tell me you love me, you have my heart forever.

Thank-you so much for being you.

Love you

The letter to my daughter followed:

To My Daughter Haley,

If I had been asked twenty-four years ago, what more could a man like me want, I would not have known how to answer. I had everything. I had a beautiful wife that I loved dearly and she apparently loved me. I had a good job, good health, a nice house and a bright future. I was happy.

Even though I did not know what I was missing, God did, and soon you were born.

From the very first time I laid eyes on you, I felt love like I had never felt before. I had never held a baby before in my life, and immediately after you were born you were thrust into my apprehensive arms. My heart raced, trying to remember the things I had read on how to properly hold an infant, but then a funny thing happened. My heart took over and the love I felt somehow guided me to do the right things.

I watched as you grew, and I shouted with joy as we together took your first steps. I shared in the joy of your discoveries of the world around you and felt your pain as much if not more than you, when things did not go just right.

I watched as you became a woman, reminding me of your beautiful mom, when she was your age and even though I consider you lucky not to have acquired my looks, I still see part of myself in you everyday. I am glad you have learned to see the humor in life, the joys, the trials and the rewards that come with living and I thank God everyday that I am there to share it with you as I was when I held you that very first time.

I know I don’t tell you I love you as much as I should, but I simply run out of ways to express it in a meaningful way. Sometimes I wish I could just simply turn my heart inside-out, and simply let you see for yourself, but we know this is not possible, so I will continue to attempt to show you how much you truly mean to your Mother and I. Hopefully as I did the day I first held you, I will let the heart take over, and let the love guide me to do the right things.

Thank-you for being such a loving daughter

Love You,

Once the letters were written, I read them over and over, changing a word here and there and even though I knew it would never win a Pulitzer Prize or even draw accolades from Hallmark, I knew it was written from my heart, and somehow I knew that both my wife and daughter would see these letters much the same as Diane Gwen and Ricky Gallaher viewed the ‘Bear’ and ‘Dog’ cards, they would understand that they were special.

I sealed each letter in their respective envelopes and addressed each, and stopped by the FedEx store to send the precious documents to my wife and daughter. I was assured they would be delivered on Valentine’s Day. I walked away feeling satisfied with my effort.

Valentine’s Day arrived. I, myself, received a touching and sweet Hallmark card from my wife and I got a beautiful red sweater from my daughter. I anxiously waited for the girl’s letters to be delivered.

Mid-afternoon there was a knock at the door, my wife and daughter, glancing my way as if to encourage me to answer the door. They both were watching television and seemingly did not want to be disturbed, but I did not budge. I picked up the newspaper, pretending to read, seemingly oblivious to the knock at the door. Rhonda, my wife, begrudgingly walked to the front door, retrieving the two FedEx envelopes addressed to her and my daughter. The expression on their faces was priceless as they both wondered what the two envelopes could contain. As they tore open the envelopes and began to read, their expressions turned from inquisitive, to surprise, to heartfelt emotions as tears trickled down each of their cheeks as they read the contents. As they both finished their letters they both came to hug me, tears on their cheeks dampening my beard, both expressing their surprise and appreciation for such thoughtfulness. My wife hugged me and still with tears running down her cheek and a smile gracing her lips, she explained, “That was the sweetest thing I have ever received from anyone. The only thing that could have made it better was if I had gotten my letter and Haley had gotten hers.” She gave a little laugh under her breath and reached up and kissed me on my cheek. I glanced at her and my daughter and they explained that the envelope addressed to my wife had actually contained the letter to my daughter and my daughter’s envelope contained my wife’s letter. They exchanged the letters and each read the correct one as I sat dumfounded, amazed at my stupid mistake.

After reading the correct letters they both were even more impressed and assured me that actually it was kind of neat to have read the wrong letter first. They talked about each other’s letter and how sweet certain lines were and how they could not believe I was so thoughtful as to reveal these heartfelt emotions in the way I did. I then excused myself and went to my desk and retrieved two small envelopes. One simply said ‘Rhonda’ the other said ‘Haley’. They tore open the envelopes only to reveal two, child like, Valentine cards. One was a bear that said “Be my Valentine” the other was a dog that said “Be my Valentine”. Both my daughter and my Wife looked at me as if questioning my sanity. I simply said, “Let me tell you the story.”