My brother stopped by Mom's place this morning to bring her a bouquet of flowers. In the family, he's generally considered to resemble Mom's father, in looks and disposition, and his bouquet reminded her of a family Valentine's Day story.
My maternal grandmother grew up in Newport News, Virginia, and met her future husband when she came to Seaford, Virginia, for her first teaching job. When word went out that a new and very pretty teacher had arrived, all the bachelors found a reason to call on her landlady--including my grandfather, who lived next door with his mother, the new teacher's landlady's first cousin.
Apparently he won out over the various other bachelors. By Christmas time, he wanted to give my grandmother a present, and called upon a friend of hers for advice. Cou'n Edna, as my mother always calls her--she was the landlady's married daughter and my grandfather's second cousin, and lived across the street--picked out a china dresser set painted with tiny blue and pink flowers. It included a dresser tray, a hairpin dish, a brush and comb, a powder jar--perhaps a dozen pieces in all, even including a hair receiver, a little covered dish with a hole in the top that people in those days used to collect the hair that came out when they brushed, apparently to make wigs and switches and sentimental braided hair jewelry. The dresser set was a lovely present, and probably not cheap. It always sounded to me like the kind of present that signaled his serious intentions.
My grandfather was dismayed when he saw what Cou'n Edna had picked out. He'd had in mind some kind of small gift that he could tuck into his pocket and pull out when they were alone. A bit of jewelry, perhaps. He knew if he gave her the dresser set, he would have to arrive in full view of all the assembled family and friends carrying an enormous unwieldy parcel clearly intended for my grandmother. Knowing his family, he probably realized he was in for a lot of good-natured teasing. But he couldn't go back and get something else--it would hurt Cou'n Edna's feelings. So he gathered his courage and braved the stares and teasing. I think it was worth it. My grandmother loved the dresser set and used it for the rest of her life.
Flash forward thirty-five or forty years. My grandmother had minor surgery around Valentine's Day, and Mom went with my grandfather to see her. After they parked in the hospital lot, my mother watched as my grandfather struggled to wrestle something out of the back seat of the car--the most enormous heart-shaped candy box she had ever seen, its red satin lid festooned with silk flowers, lace, and red ribbons. My grandfather marched proudly into the hospital, carrying a gift that could probably been seen from blocks away. Quite a change from the man who was mortified to be seen carrying a large wrapped present to his young lady.