— by Alyce Faye Bragg
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, and flowers and boxes of candy are flying through the air. Valentine’s Day is a special day dedicated to lovers, although the custom has been enlarged to sending greetings, not only to sweethearts, but to friends and family members as well. The history of Valentine’s Day goes back for many centuries, and is fascinating.
Some authorities believe that the day stemmed from the ancient Roman festival called Lupercalia, while others connect the event with one or more of the saints of the early Christian church. There is an old English belief that birds choose their mates on Valentine’s Day, and the day probably came about as a combination of all three sources. Also, spring has always been a time for lovers.
One story tells that the Roman Emperor Claudius 11 in A. D. 200 forbade young men to marry, as he thought single men made better soldiers. A priest named Valentine was beheaded because he secretly married young couples. Another story tells of an early Christian named Valentine who was popular with children. Supposedly, he was imprisoned by the Romans because he would not worship their gods. When he was behind bars, he was missed so much by the children that they tossed loving notes to him. This may explain the custom of exchanging messages on Valentine’s Day.
The early English women had many customs of learning who their future husbands would be. In the 1700’s they would write the names of prospective husbands on scraps of paper, roll them in a little piece of clay, and drop them all in water. The first piece of paper that rose to the surface was supposed to have the name of the woman’s true love. That is not much different then the “fortunes” we used to tell one another, using names and formulas. And what little girl has not pulled the petals from a daisy, chanting all the while, “He loves me, he loves me not?”
They also used bay leaves to discern their future husbands–pinning them on their pillow the night before Valentine’s Day. They were supposed to see their intended in a dream. The one I liked the best was the charm used by single women in Derbyshire in central England. At midnight, they would circle the church three or twelve times, and chant, “I sow hempseed/ hempseed I sow/ he that loves me best/ come after me now.” I don’t think I’d have the nerve to do that, as our church is bordered by the cemetery on the upper side.
Mom told me of the custom of using an apple peeling to find out who you were going to marry. At apple butter time, when the old folks had “apple peelings” you would try to peel an apple without breaking the peeling. Then you would throw it over your left shoulder, and it would form the initial of your true love. She also had this formula, “On the first day of May, you break an egg into a bottle. Then you find a spring facing east, and fill the bottle with spring water and shake it. When you look at it through the sun, it will reveal the image of your future husband. She said her step-grandmother vowed that it really worked, ‘cause she did it and saw Grandpa Bob’s mustache!
The valentines of my mother’s day were usually homemade ones, with verses such as this, ”Sure as the vine grows ‘round the stump; you are my darling sugar lump!” Or, “Hang the dishrag on the hook, I hope some day you’ll be my cook!” She remembers a lovely store-bought one, trimmed with lace and red hearts, that a young lad named Rome Samples showed around the school. Her heart longed after it, but on Valentine’s Day, her sister Ruby received it.
When I was in grade school, we exchanged the little penny ones, to boys and girls alike. I still remember the first romantic one I received. I must have been in the seventh grade, and it was a genuine heart and flower bedecked valentine. It was in a real envelope and was signed “Love, Doc.” It thrilled me from the tips of my pigtails down to my rubber galoshes. I have never forgotten it.
The road to true love, or otherwise, is many times fraught with stumbling blocks. My late Uncle Enos used to tell the sad saga of one of his young friends named Odie. He was sweet on a certain girl, but like John Alden, was too bashful to do his own courting. He bought her a box of candy and prevailed upon Uncle Enos and his friend Elmer to give it to her. He should have known better–Uncle Enos was quite a jokester, and it was like asking a fox to guard the chicken house. He and Elmer ate the whole bottom layer of the candy, and replaced it with tiny potatoes re-wrapped in the gold foil. Odie was hurt and perplexed when he saw the girl later and she refused to speak to him. I wonder if the whole course of history was changed for him by Uncle Enos’ valentine prank.
It is odd how a quirk of fate or a chance encounter can change the course of a person’s life and forever fix their destiny. It is the road not taken, lost forever in the forest of the past, never to be traveled again. It is the date that was broken, the telephone call not returned and the letter not answered. It is the book closed in mid-chapter and never finished.
I once asked my sister Mary Ellen if she thought that there was only one true love in the world for each person, and we were destined to meet “that one” at some time. She pondered for a minute and replied, “Well, I feel that the Lord will lead you to the right person if we pray and wait upon Him.” I have always felt that the Lord had a hand in bringing my husband Criss, and me together, although neither one of us was saved at that time. I believe He had a long-range plan for our lives; looking down through the years and seeing our children and grandchildren coming after us.
If I hadn’t gone to that wiener roast that night almost 60 years ago, our paths may never have crossed. I am thankful for the road that was taken. There have been some rough places and troubled times, but through it all, the Lord has deepened our love and brought us closer together. I am happy with the love I have chosen.