Unexpected valentines

When I was a little girl, my grandma recruited my mom and me to sneakily deliver a present to her “secret pal.” My grandma belonged to a women’s circle of friends in a small rural town and they had a tradition of drawing a “secret pal” once per year and, all during the year, the women would anonymously give their secret pals gifts for birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. It was the “secret” part that I loved best, the gifts themselves were mostly just little tokens.

So on a cold Valentine’s Day in 1967, in an old model white Valiant, my mom, brother, sister and I pulled down the dirt lane driveway to my grandma’s secret pal’s farmhouse, checking that there weren’t any cars or pickups around, indicating that the coast was clear. With the rest of them waiting in the car, I took the little present in hand and raced up to the porch, dashing into the front room (no one locked their doors back then) and set the small wrapped package on a little table. I turned and headed back toward the waiting get-away car. As my hand reached for the porch doorknob, who should come out from a back room but Ruth Ricketts, my grandma’s secret pal! My heart was already pounding with the adventure of it all but now I thought it would leap out of my chest!

“Terri, what are you doing here, child?”

Being a well-read 3rd-grader, I drew up my best Nancy Drew persona, I looked at her and said, “Oh, Ruth, we were just driving by and my mom sent me in to see if you were coming to the Friendship Club meeting next week. I called for you, but I guess you didn’t hear me.”

OK, admittedly I wasn’t the brightest 3rd-grade version of Nancy Drew, but never once did my eyes stray over to that table with the secret pal gift on it. When I finally made my escape, my mom and siblings and I giggled and laughed wildly about it for miles and miles and days and days. (Disclaimer: When I called my mom to fact-check this story, she didn’t remember it exactly the way I do, but she remembered how much we laughed about it. So consider this version memoir-fiction.)

I have always loved giving presents, and I’ve been thinking about the thrill of giving an unexpected one. It was what conjured that old memory of my grandma’s secret pal gift, and I also remembered an unexpected gift I once gave to someone I didn’t know very well.

A couple years ago, I had a vendor saleswoman who had gone out of her way with good service and some great deals for my business. I was scheduled for a meeting at her office one day to discuss a project and I decided to pop over to
Petersen’s Flowers and get a little bouquet for her. When I gave her the flowers, she was tickled pink, and later she shared with me that it had been more than 10 years since she had received flowers from anyone. And while I don’t receive flowers on a regular basis, I think 10 years is way too long to go without getting a bouquet.

So, I’d like to encourage you this Valentine’s Day to experience the thrill of giving an unexpected valentine to someone who, well, doesn’t expect it. For a holiday whose focus is often too much about romantic love, I say we claim it to spread ALL kinds of love — love to your neighbor, your bus driver, your mom. Look around in your life and see if you can find someone who probably hasn’t received a valentine in a long, long time. Give a little box of chocolates, some carnations, or just a note of appreciation tucked in a card. Whether you give it anonymously or not, enjoy the thrill of the surprise.

If everyone in the Southwest Journal readership chose just one person to whom they will give an unexpected valentine, we’ll have more than 100,000 happier hearts on this cold winter’s Valentine’s Day this week. One will be the surprised recipient, and one will be you!

Terre Thomas owns Fairy Godmother, a gift and bookstore in the Kingfield neighborhood, and she and her family live in the Lyndale neighborhood. She can be reached at [email protected]