I was in the Mexico Walmart the other day when I heard an exchange that warmed my heart like only eavesdropping in Walmart could.
“So, for Val’tine’s Day, you want candy or flowahs?” a guy asked his sweetie. “You ain’t gettin’ both.”
“Chocolates!” she answered emphatically. “But none of them dahk kind…too bittah. You can save the damn flowahs for when I croak!”
He waited till she was a safe distance away in search of Pringles, then pondered a display of neon pink, heart-shaped boxes like a man on a mission. Deciding she really was worth something extra special, he grabbed a five-pounder milk chocolate assortment with a tiny white “Luv U” teddy bear taped to the top—a reminder of his affection long after the candy ran out.
Something told me he wasn’t going to spring for a card to complete his shrink-wrapped valentine. Even so, I wanted what she was getting. Hearing the squeak of cellophane as he stashed it alongside his Bud 30-rack stirred something primal from deep within and long, long ago. Way back—before Hallmarks, roses, romance, and a husband—I longed for a big, brassy display of affection like that. A huge box of Luv U just for me! Then, even if the other girls got double decker, ten-pounder chocolates, I’d have the little teddy hanging off my backpack to prove that, for one special day back in February, I had a valentine.
“Woah! Where did that come from?” I wondered. Spend a little time among the rows of plastic-flowered fuchsia hearts, and suddenly I was back in junior high craving chocolate nougats and a teddy bear trinket? Head down, I hurried my cart past the giant, extra-postage-required singing cards—averting my eyes to the cupid print boxer shorts and fire engine red nighties—nervous that, by the time I got home, I’d start having a hankering for Monkees reruns and my old lava lamp, too. Luckily, I managed to shake it off, making it back up the mountain to celebrate Valentines Day without a cellophane wrapped heart in sight. I had to wonder, though, what part of me could revert back to my lovelorn adolescence so fast and hard that I could almost feel the candy caramels getting stuck in my braces? How much could I actually blame on the mega marketing machine beating inside the Mexico Walmart, and how much did I need to admit that, deep down, I still longed for overly sweet, kitsch-coated Valentine validation?
I suspect it started back in elementary school, in the days before teachers had to mandate equal treatment during Valentine’s Day class parties. I’d peer into the paper sack taped to the side of my desk, thrilled when it held almost as many cards as the flirty girls with perfect hair got. On good years, when there’d even be candy in the bottom of my sack, I figured out the little hearts stamped “BE MINE” or “KISS ME” tasted way better than the “U R SWELL” ones.
But I’ve always preferred all things chocolate, a passion lovingly passed down from my first favorite Valentine, my dad. The only heart health he knew was how good it felt to hug and slip each other a Snickers at the same time. In the days before high-fructose or low-glycemic anything, our father-daughter time was sweetened with Skybars, and family outings were fueled by orange slices—not the tree-ripened juicy ones, but the jellied candy kind—my dad’s idea of a power snack. It was my dad who gave me my first Whitman’s Sampler, a testament of his unconditional love and a test of my true feminine will power. How long after I ate the coconut mounds, the cherry cordials, and the other prime pieces could I let the box sit in my room before I’d cave and polish off those lingering dark ones filled with molasses and other things only Grandma really liked? Not long at all, I discovered and, by February 16th, I was using the empty box to store old photos and other keepsakes. I’m pretty sure that was the year I began associating Kodak moments—those happy times surrounded by love and family—with the haunting smell of recently devoured chocolate.
“Must be a girl thing,” says Tom, my husband of 35 years, whenever he sees me enraptured by Lindor truffles and such. Aside from the occasional sack of bull’s eyes he picks up from Mallard Mart, Tom saves his sweet tooth for blueberry pie. “This is the nicest thing you could ever do for me,” he reminds me each time I bake him one and he savors every slice. He could care less about chocolate, unless he’s playing middle man or needs a few pieces for bargaining chips. “If you really love me, just bring me a couple chocolates,” I tell him this time of year. And every year, he looks at me long and hard to see if I’m just saying no with my lips, while my very soul is shouting “Yes, please! Hand over a whole tray of Ferraro Rocher’s or don’t even bother!”
Yup, it’s a girl thing, all right, all tangled up in hormones, history, and borderline hysteria. And like all girl things, my man observes from a safe distance, teetering between being an enabler and waging tough love to try to snap me out of it. “Hey, don’t you really wanna save some of that for later?” he wanted to know the last time he saw my choco-holic tendencies get out of control. It was our first day of vacation in Hawaii and I was half way through a box of chocolate covered coconut and macadamia mounds.
“No,” I insisted silently, my mouth too busy and my brain too lost in luscious ooey, gooey-ness to speak. Couldn’t he see I was in paradise, for crying out loud—savoring every moment? Besides, the chocolates were a gift, waiting for me in a welcome basket the minute I opened the door to the condo. It was only natural that the pretty box with the palm trees and volcanoes caught my eye before the papayas and grapefruit at the bottom of the basket. But, knowing me all too well, he recognized the behavior. It was the same pattern he’d seen at Christmas when Helen made me rum balls with Godiva brownie mix and enough rum to make Captain Morgan lose his sea legs. “Yum, what a nice thing to give her Mumma,” I sighed, helping myself to just one more until, finally, the question became less about Helen’s love and more about how much did I love myself. And, if I really did, could I stop shoveling in rum balls?
“Brought you something,” Tom announced, returning home from his last grocery run to town. I perked up immediately. It was getting close to Valentine’s Day, after all. And, although I’d been fairly adamant about not wanting “a whole ton of chocolates”, I knew he cherished me like no other. He smiled sweetly, and I could hear the faint rustle of cellophane as he reached into his coat pocket and deposited two Lindor truffles into my hand. “Oooh…the peanut butter filled ones,” I said, “My favorite!”
He’d barely gotten his coat off before I called after him. “Got any more?” I asked, mouth full of half-melted heaven. “I’ll make you a pie!”
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