The pressure’s on and the stakes are high when February 14 rolls around.
There are those (my father was one of them) who believe that greeting card companies invented Valentine’s Day to jump-start their new year profits after they fleeced gullible consumers in the last quarter. And florists, confectioners, vintners and restaurant owners are all complicit in the conspiracy to guilt us into reaffirming our commitments by emptying our wallets.
Guilt is a common theme surrounding Valentine’s Day. Just this past weekend a friend confessed to me that she “pretends” to celebrate Valentine’s Day just so her co-workers won’t think that she and her husband don’t celebrate it. Pretending, in her case, translates into baking a chocolate cake so she can tell you if you ask that she did something very special for her husband just for Valentine’s Day.
Once upon a time there were two childhood sweethearts. They were both born in 1887 in a fishing village on an island called Hvar in the Adriatic Sea – an island belonging to Austria prior to the end of World War I. According to the oral history, they met at an early age and were inseparable from the time they were 12 years old. But hard times forced the teenage young man to leave Hvar, promising his one true love that he would send for her as soon as he could. He boarded a steamer bound for Canada, where he found work in a sugar factory for 10 cents a day.
After several years he saved up enough money to purchase passage for the young woman. She had waited patiently never doubting he would keep his promise. She passed the months at home with her family, keeping herself busy with crochet and embroidery work. She disembarked from the ship with two trunks filled to the brim with her hand-sewn trousseau. On Oct. 18, 1910, my maternal grandparents, Petar Mardesich and Filomena Borsich were married in the Parish of the Nativity in Montreal, Quebec.
And they lived happily ever after.
Well, sort of.
That first harsh winter in Montreal my grandmother experienced her first blizzard. The small apartment they rented was drafty and cold. Filomena insisted they move to a warmer climate. Now. My grandfather, in a tradition that would continue for the next 42 years, lovingly agreed to do what his wife asked. He made arrangements to follow his brother to Southern California and by the spring of 1911, the young couple was settled in a cozy two-bedroom home in San Pedro, expecting the first of their four daughters.
My mother and her sisters all told the same story — that until the day he died, my grandfather doted on his beloved bride. He was a commercial fisherman, the captain of his own boat, and spent weeks, sometimes months at sea. But once he was in port, he lived each moment for Filomena. Every morning he straightened the seams of her stockings and every night he brushed her long thick hair. He poured her wine and carried her laundry to the clothes line for her.
These are the tender memories that have been handed down to me and I’ve heard them so often that I have come to believe I stood in my grandparents’ bedroom one morning when my grandfather, sitting on their bed, carefully and tenderly straightened the seams of my grandmother’s stockings before she walked out of the room.
My grandfather died of a heart attack just a couple of months after my second birthday. I have no real recollection of my grandparents together and probably never witnessed the scene I just described. But my older cousins did. And they’ve confirmed what my mother and my aunts told me, that no woman was loved deeper or better than my grandmother.
The way I see it, how you feel about or deal with Valentine’s Day doesn’t have anything to do with real love. Revel in it or ignore the hype completely. Or, as in the case of my cake-baking friend, play it safe with a “faux” Valentine celebration. It doesn’t matter because red roses and truffles aren’t what ’til-death-do-us-part love is all about. It’s about straightening the seams.
Reach Michele Thomas, the Del Norte Triplicate’s publisher, at firstname.lastname@example.org, 464-2141 or stop by 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.