I love every holiday equally, which as you can imagine, makes me as much a devotee of Cupid as I am of Phil (see last week's post). My friend Rosie listened patiently as I whined about this week's cookie chaos at work. In response, she posed an interesting question. "Why are they fixated on cookies? Why can't they give chocolates on Valentine's Day, like everyone else?" I wondered why as well. In a time not so long ago, my home address was in this very state, not too far from an infamous stretch of roadway that boasts many landmarks from my Wonder Bread years. Among them are a large fabric emporium, a retail store built to resemble a ship (really) and a chocolate manufacturer (now we're talking). My mother at the wheel, I traveled that highway three times a week, passing Helen Elliott Chocolates. Mondays and Thursdays for piano and Solfège,Wednesdays for ballet. Clearly my talents ultimately lay elsewhere; hence my current employ in the world of rolling pins and pastry bags. Which brings me back to Valentine's Day.
It was somewhat of a tradition in my youth and throughout college to receive a Valentine card and a heart shaped box of Helen Elliott chocolates. The signature on the card was always the same and it was the only card my father ever signed. My mother has beautiful handwriting and was the signator on birthday cards, but Valentines were penned in my Dad's run-on scrawl, "Your Secret Admirer." I adored every piece of candy that was nestled into accordion pleated papers; caramels and chocolate covered cherries, English toffee, nut clusters and something that was a cross between a truffle and fudge. That box of candy was the highlight of February, and always welcome. Except once.
Sophomore year of college, circa 1970-something. Situated on the Ithaca college campus, tucked within the student union was The Pub. I'm still struggling to understand how The Pub was housed on campus and served alcohol when now the only bars in the student union serve salad. Let's just say without going into too much detail, that on this particular February the 13th, I had joined a castmate at The Pub. I recall circles of fruit swimming in pitchers of red wine and not much else. Oh yes, my friend Pamela arrived at some point and walked me back to my dorm through mountains of snow where Betsy was curiously waiting. Thanks, Pamela.
The very next day I was making my way to a voice lesson when I paused to check my mailbox. There was a slip indicating I had a package waiting. It could wait. Class was a group lesson and someone was singing a selection from "Oliver" which ordinarily I wouldn't have minded. That day it was torturous, every single note on the piano wreaking havoc on my throbbing head. After class, I swung by the Union to pick up my package. I tore back the corrugated box to reveal, just what someone in my current fragile state would not consider pining for; a heart shaped box of Helen Elliott chocolates. Even hundreds of miles away, my father had his finger on the pulse.
Which makes me think that on Valentine's Day I should take a minute and call my Dad. Come to think of it, he was the guy who introduced me to the concept of pie for breakfast. I should also say "thank you." For the piano lessons and the ballet lessons, and for all of the heart shaped boxes of Valentine chocolates.
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