Valentine’s Day: Filled with bitter sweetness

Published 3:00 am Saturday, February 11, 2017

My grandmother died on a cold, rainy night in February 1965. She was buried on Valentine’s Day, my daddy’s birthday.

The loss of my grandmother was my first personal experience with death. It had come so close to me and I knew it would come again. And, it has. But it doesn’t always come on cold, rainy nights. It just feels like it does.

My granddaddy, died in April at his naptime just after dinner. Daddy at morning worship time on a Sunday Father’s Day and Mama in the early morning hours of January 14, the day before her birthday – all seemed like cold, rainy nights in February.

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Valentine’s Day always puts a lump in my throat as I think about my grandmother and Daddy and that Valentine’s Day, now so long ago. About my granddaddy, Mama and my aunts, uncles, cousins and friends who are no longer here. And, then, there’s joy, too, for those we have here and now.

So, Valentine’s Day is bittersweet – bitter and sweet.

Now, romantic is not a word that would have been used to describe Daddy, who was born on Valentine’s Day, the day designated for romance.

I’m not sure the word was even in his vocabulary.

But he understood the meaning of Valentine’s Day so he always bought Mama a big, heart-shaped box of Valentine candy with plastic roses on the top.

Inside the box was an assortment of soft-centered chocolates.

Mama would mash the chocolates to see what was inside. She didn’t care for many of the centers but, evidently, that didn’t bother Daddy one bit. He went right behind her, eating the candies with exposed centers and not seeming to notice that he’d eaten more of Mama’s Valentine candy than she had. “Look, Mama, here comes Daddy with ‘his’ Valentine candy.”

Mama would laugh and act surprised and happy but secretly wished that, just one time, Daddy would get her a box of those pecan clusters that she liked so much … and ones she wouldn’t have to mash.

Since Daddy’s birthday was on Valentine’s Day, every year Mama would bake him a birthday cake and decorate it with red hearts and write “Happy Birthday, William” on the top. Daddy didn’t care for parties so that was about the most we made of his birthday. We’d give him some presents that he didn’t especially want. Mama would cook his favorite dinner-pork chops, little white peas, stewed potatoes and fried cornbread. That would be it or so we thought.

Just as soon as Mama and I got finished in the kitchen and sat down to watch television, Daddy would say, “How about one of y’all gettin’ me a bowl of ice cream.”

And, one of us would hop right up and get Daddy a big, mixing bowl of ice cream for his birthday and Mama would get her red box of Valentine chocolates and start mashing. So, this Valentine’s Day will again be both bitter and sweet as I continue to try to walk around the holes in my life left by those who are no longer here and revel in the joys of those, here and now, that I love so much.