~ By Jeff Salter
I can only assume I had heard of it previously, but I didn’t sense the true importance of Valentine’s Day until fifth grade when my heart was first captured by Robbie B. [More about her in a moment.]
Around the perimeter of that classroom, each student’s small paper sack was tacked (?) to the rim of the chalk tray which bordered the black-board [yeah, that was before chalkboards were green]. The sacks must have been provided, because all were the same size and color. Presumably, we had used previous class time to decorate and write our names on them.
On the school day nearest Feb. 14, the teacher allowed time (during the last period) for us to scurry around the room and distribute our out-going valentines into the sacks of those kids we liked enough to do so. Yeah, that was before you were required to have one for every student — so some very popular kids got LOTS of valentines and a few kids got only a few. [If there was any stigma, it was fairly private because we didn’t even get to hold those bags until we were actually leaving school that day. In any case: nothing for parent to file lawsuits about.]
Well, of course, it was quite common to give valentines to the girls you were friendly with. I distributed a bunch of those cards because there were several friendly girls I knew and liked. These were the girls I could speak to. [I’ll come back to that.]
But there was only one girl who I really LIKED. Yeah, the ‘L’ word of fifth grade. I was smitten. To Robbie B., I gave the most elaborate valentine I could locate (and afford). Alas, she had stolen not only my heart… but my tongue. Yep, I was incapable of speaking directly to Robbie… because she was THE ONE. I know, it sounds odd these days — when kids that age now have cell phones / Facebook / e-mail and spend hours posting, texting, or twittering. But I could not ‘talk’ to Robbie at all. I could ‘show off’ near her… and often did. I could rhapsodize about her to my buddies (and did). I could even speak to Robbie’s friends about her (and I did). So everybody knew I LIKED Robbie… including Robbie.
Ah, but I had a rival for Robbie’s affection — and he was a buddy. Not a ‘best’ buddy, but one who played the same games and ‘hung out’ with the same guys I did. He and I never spoke about Robbie. I guess it was the ‘code’ of school kid rivals that Robbie’s selected suitor should be her choice… and my rival and I should stoically continue to be buddies no matter what. But my buddy-rival had a huge edge over me: he WAS able to speak to Robbie.
You’re probably wondering whether Robbie returned my affections. Well, that was difficult to know. Of course, I received data from other girls (those several with whom I was perfectly capable of speech) and their reports varied. [Sometimes they initiated the status and sometimes I possibly asked.] I no longer recall any of those reports with any specificity, but my firm notion at that time was that Robbie was agreeable to my attentions – and to my gifts (I left them on her doorstep and ran) – but she was likely puzzled by my inability to interact.
Except at parties. Yeah, there were parties in those days, presumably organized by parents. Some were during the Carnival season and were known as King Cake parties. Others were just parties with music, dancing, limbo contests (yeah, I know)… and kissing. Yep. There were two basic kissing games: something complicated involving shoes (which I don’t recall very well) and the more popular activity with very simple rules called ‘spin the bottle.’ I LOVED spinning the bottle and I was pretty durn good at getting it to point directly at Robbie. [Of course, I didn’t mind kissing three or four other girls for every single – though brief – caress of Robbie’s lips.]
I don’t recall whether I was as mystified… then as now. But how come I could kiss Robbie – when the bottle was adroitly ‘spun’ – with such ease… but could not bring myself to SPEAK with her? I’m sure it drove Robbie crazy throughout fifth grade… and sixth, and seventh, and eighth. I could tell you about our first ‘official’ date (eighth grade prom), but that would take another entire column… plus I barely said a dozen words to her during that entire evening. And we only danced the slow dances. [Things would have gone better if I’d brought a bottle to spin.]
My first valentine and first true ‘like’ — poor Robbie.
[Note: This content previously appeared in my Hound Day blog at “Four Foxes One Hound” on Feb. 17, 2011.]
Besides 8 novels and 4 novellas (with three different royalty publishers), I’ve published non-fiction monographs, articles, book reviews, and over 120 poems; my writing has won nearly 40 awards, including several in national contests. As a newspaper photo-journalist, I published about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos.