I didn’t have space in last week’s column to mention another find in my middle desk drawer. Said treasure was yet another pre-Ziplock plastic bag containing about a dozen used, 1950s, vintage, “five and dime” store Valentines that were extremely popular with grade school children this time of year way back when.
There’s a note from column reader Jeri Sloan attached to this bunch that says “Mr. Adams, You ought to write about these sometime when you get to reminiscing.”
It’s untelling how long these little cards have been in my desk drawer but, for some reason, I’m thinking that Jeri was living in Harlan County when she sent them and it may have been late in the last century. I’ve obviously thrown away the envelope they came in but I must have planned to get right on it. On the other hand, there are kids graduating college this spring who are younger than some of the good intentions in my desk drawer.
In any event, I’ve decided that there is, indeed, a column in the Valentine cards. Here’s one that Elizabeth Ann Edwards sent to someone that has an animated raccoon holding a fishing rod and reel with a grinning fish on the line that says “I think you’re reel nice, Valentine”. Another has a little boy hugging a little girl that simply says “A Valentine for a swell person.” James sent it to someone.
Another one, from Roger Dale Adams, has a little boy with a huge package stamped with hearts on his back, wearing mailman shorts. The card reads, “Hope this carries enough weight for you, Valentine.” One from Linville Stidham has a parachuting teddy bear holding a heart and it says, “Don’t keep me up in the air, Valentine.” Nancy Ellen Moore sent a hat-wearing bee that reads “Valentine, You’re a Honey. Please bee mine.”
I don’t remember my kids ever getting into the Valentine craze, or, at least, much excited about it, but when I was in grade school every little country store in Letcher County profited from the holiday. A nickel would purchase a one-dozen pack of the little, one-sided, caricature cards. More than enough for everybody in your class and a few left over for some older or younger kids.
I know the little cards are still sold in Dollar Trees, Dollar Stores, drug stores and discount houses, but I’ve never seen kids standing in line to peruse the offerings the way we used to at the Dime Store in Whitesburg throughout the last half of January and the first two weeks of February.
While the little country stores back then mostly sold the small nickel and dime packs, “The Dime Store” in town did brisk business selling larger packs with 12 dozen (144) cards for 29 cents. Of course Whitesburg Grade School had upwards of 30 (or more) kids in each class while Blair Branch never had more than 10 during my eight-year tenure.
By the time I was in eighth grade, all three of my younger brothers were also in school so we splurged and bought the big Dime Store packs which made it possible for all four of us to give a Valentine to every kid in our three-grade rooms. In those days we gave Valentines to both genders but we only gave ones that hinted of long, true, and abiding love to certain members of the opposite sex.
We didn’t have “crushes” at Blair Branch Grade School. We “claimed” girlfriends and boyfriends. Hard feelings and even fights sometime erupted when two or more boys claimed the same girl.
I remember a schoolyard fight between two first-grade boys who claimed the same little girl. Miss Ison marched us back inside where the two little boys promptly had their britches dusted with her paddle.
She sat them back down and asked them what they were fighting over. The room became so quiet you could have heard dust settling. Finally one little girl raised her hand.
“They were fighting because they both claim me,” she said. “But I’ve got news for ‘em. I wouldn’t give either one of ‘em air if I had ‘em in a jug!”
She didn’t bother to tell the teacher that she had recently given both boys Valentine cards that had the “L” word on them. Now you can be the judge as to who actually started this little fight.