Valentine's Day was one occasion which my parents didn't celebrate. It wasn't for religious reasons; we just didn't bother with it. I knew nothing about the custom of giving loved ones paper hearts and candy until my grade one teacher, Mrs. Mael, introduced us to it.
After asking one student to hand out sheets of red construction paper and scissors, she showed us how to fold the page in half and cut out the shape of a heart.
"All right, everybody," Mrs Mael instructed over our excited chatter, "I want you to print the name of somebody you love on the heart. You may write your brother's name or your sisters if you want. Or maybe you could write 'Mom' or 'Dad.'""
I stared at the red paper heart I cut out and pondered whose name I should scrawl on it. Since "Mom" was only three letters long, I snatched up my Primer Print pencil and scribbled that on my heart.
"Bruce," our teacher called, "give every one a paper doily. You'll find them on my desk."
"What's a doily?" I asked as I stared at the clutter of things on her desk.
"Those frilly things are doilies," she explained as she walked over and handed me a stack of them. "Go to every pupil's desk and give them one each.
As I complied with her request, I ran out of doilies after only giving them out to half the class. "Can I have some more doilies?" I asked as I looked for more on the desk.
"You couldn't have run out," she said as she walked over to me.
"He's given me three," a helpful girl called out from across the room. Other students echoed similar observations.
I stood there, staring at my shoes and blushing with shame. Instead of scolding me, Mrs Mael came to my rescue. She walked down each isle and collected the extra doilies from my classmates. Then she handed them to me. I carefully separated each disk of fancy, white paper as I completed my task.
After we glued the doilies to the backs of our paper hearts, our teacher brought out a wonderful treat, She handed each of us a little red, plastic heart-shaped box filled with heart-shaped candies. "Happy Valentine's Day," she exclaimed as we munched happily on our cinnamon-flavoured sweets.
This day of love and warmth, overcast and cold though it was that afternoon, remains vivid in my mind fifty years later.
In Deliverance from Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School), I wrote about being taken out of that local school and sent to an institution for blind and deaf students.
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