My father sent me a card on St. Valentine’s Day every year of my life up until his death. In the early days, he painted them himself. The first one, sent when I was 11 months old, shows my favorite things of the time: a clock that sat on the mantelpiece; a spoon; a box that had held 100 Player’s cigarettes (my parents smoked in those days); and a particularly gruesome rag doll made of pale green stockinette and named Gwynedd, which is the Welsh spelling—my mother was Welsh—of Gwyneth. My father’s cards were almost always unsigned because tradition, now lost, says that Valentines should be anonymous.
My father also sent Valentines every year to my mother. At the beginning, they were delicate pencil drawings or watercolors, sometimes with quotations and sometimes with original verse. My mother saved them and now I have them. Over the years, my father moved to commercial cards, but the very last Valentine he sent my mother—in 1996, the year of her death—is hand-made.
By then my mother had Alzheimer’s. Confused, frightened, and angry, she was no longer the gentle, loving person we knew. Yet she apparently had a vague comprehension of the significance of the card because I found it among her effects after she died.
A heart and daffodils are drawn (crudely by my father’s standards—the Parkinson’s disease from which he suffered was rapidly advancing) with magic marker. The message: “When we first began to think of such things as Valentines, it was some 60 years and more ago. But the feeling does not change. You are still all the world to me.”
I have many of the Valentines my father sent me. Somewhere I think—I hope—I have the very last one, but I can’t put my hands on it right now. The card is a leftover Christmas card. Apparently my father—by then well into his 80s and in a nursing home—had obviously left it too late to have someone buy a Valentine’s card for him, or maybe he felt that someone else shouldn’t buy something so personal. His once vigorous, sure handwriting on which I modeled my own is shaky. The message of love is not. He crossed out the Christmas greeting and wrote “Oops” followed by a message I can’t call to mind but that I know expressed my father’s love.
My mother and I are fortunate to have been on the receiving end of that unreserved love.