The big red box

By on February 11, 2015

 

Phil Eisemann

Phil Eisemann

The Washington Avenue Elementary School of the second quarter of the 20th Century was a large red brick structure facing on Washington Avenue.
It provided basic education to Ephrata Borough students north of Main Street.
During the first half of the 1950s almost all of the teachers at this school lived in the borough. Among them was Miss Kinard, who could be seen daily walking from her residence at the top of the Main Street hill to the school and back.One notable thing about the redoubtable Miss Kinard was she had snow-white hair. The second was her St. Valentine’s Day card box. Every year in the week before Feb. 14 she would haul out a large box covered with shiny red paper and festooned with hearts, lace and ribbons. There would be an art project in which her charges were instructed in the making of Valentine cards. These were usually addressed to parents or grand-parents. It was understood that all of the students would either buy or make Valentine cards for each of their classmates. Weit’s store and several other notions dealers sold bags of preprinted cards. On the day, the back of the box was opened and the cards distributed. Of course, Miss Kinard got a card from every student; some did better than others. On one occasion, remembered by some, a young swain was overflowing with puppy-love for a classmate. He cut a two-foot high heart out of cardboard, covered it in red paper, and decorated it in the same ribbons and lace as the box. On the day he presented it personally to his love. Granted, this was fifth grade but it still created an awkward moment. The girl’s blush matched the box and she quickly took it to the cloak room where she hid it behind her coat. The boy took more than his usual guff from his peers. Ah, young love can be painful.
I asked the mother of elementary students if the practice continues. She said the big red box has been replaced by individual bags which the students decorate and hang them along the wall. The cards have only changed in that they are now bought at a big box store. Also it is emphasized that every student is to provide a card for every classmate. The exuberance of our long time ago romantic would be discouraged.
We have Geoffery Chaucer, of Canterbury Tales fame, to thank for the first equating of St. Valentine’s Day with romantic love. He first made the connection in the poem Parlement of Foules in 1382. From that date there is an outpouring of poetry and song related to the day. It was in the 18th Century that sending greetings on the day caught hold. By 1797, companies were producing printed Valentines with pictures and verse ranging from syrupy to racy. The two stories which follow are from the Cocalico Valley, one confirmed one apocryphal.
It was a long-standing friendship which had only recently developed into a potential romance. On finishing her master’s degree she took a job teaching at a school in Alabama. It was when she was gone that her beau recognized his longing for her company. He sent her a very special Valentine’s Day card. Even though he worked at the Lancaster Post Office the postage alone was $12. Five years later they married. They have four grown children but she still has that card.
It was in the days before high school cafeterias, students would brown bag or go home for lunch. Our hero arrived on February 14 to discover it was Valentine’s Day and he had nothing to give to his current girlfriend. It was a Thursday and his wallet was a bit thin as payday was tomorrow. In a panic he remembered seeing a box of old cards in his grandmother’s attic. A quick sort through the old shoe box hit pay dirt. It was an elaborate old card which was FILLED OUT IN PENCIL. A quick erase and a message in pen did the trick. She was impressed but insufficiently impressed not to dump him for a basketball player a few months later. Now we jump ahead about 40 years. Accompanying his wife on an antique shopping expedition he sees a similar card which on examination proves to be the same one. What is shocking is the price tag: $158. He should have bought the candy bar.
It is all about love and the way you express it matters little, just express it. Happy Valentine’s Day.

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