Winter has loosened its grip on our hills for a few days. The recent snow, piled wide and deep, has almost disappeared except for a few patches here and there. February has always seemed a dingy, muddy month that spans the bridge between winter and spring.
A bright spot is Valentine's Day, which appears in the middle of the month to cheer the hearts of lovers. Back in my childhood (a hundred or so years ago!) we would be busy making valentines out of notebook paper, construction paper, or any materials we could find. Oh, some of the luckier children had "bought" valentines, but I always thought that the handmade ones were more personal and sweeter.
Back in Mom's day, they were often sent with original verses. "Sure as the vine grows 'round the stump, you are my darling sugar lump!" and "Hang the dishrag on the hook, I hope someday you'll be my cook!" These are some of the examples that were sent during her time.
My dad used to love to send the comic valentines that were popular then. Printed on a single sheet of paper, they were comic characters that were slightly insulting, and sent anonymously. I haven't seen one of those in years.
The manufactured cards of long ago were embossed with lots of cupids, flowers and lace. They contained syrupy-sweet verses, and were illustrated with boys and girls in old fashioned dress. These vintage Valentines are quite valuable now. I wish I had saved the ones I received. After these many years, they might be valuable!
I remember the first "love" Valentine I received. At school, all our Valentines were placed in a box, and the teacher drew them out one by one and called each name. I think I was in the eighth grade, and my face burned all the way back to my seat. It was signed, "Love, Doc." I will never forget it.
We usually had a "Pie Social" around this time, which has become a thing of the past. Of course it was a money-making event for school supplies, mostly for library books. The younger generation has never heard of such a thing, but it was an eagerly anticipated event that came in the bleakness of February.
The girls would spend days decorating and embellishing boxes with crepe paper, lace, ribbons and bows. Some of them would prepare box lunches instead of pies. There was a buzz of excitement in the schoolhouse when the night arrived for the Pie Social. The pies and box lunches were arranged on a table, and one of the neighborhood men would auction them off one by one.
It was supposed to be secret as to who baked the pie, and the idea was for the boy who bought the pie to eat with the girl who made it. After the pies were sold, we would have a cakewalk. Someone brought a fancy cake, and we all made a circle and held hands. A designated person stood with his back to the circle, holding a broom over his head. The circle of kids marched round and round, and after a time the broomstick would be lowered between two people. They won the cake.
We had an "Ugly Man Contest" and a "Pretty Girl Contest," which was decided by a penny a vote. We didn't bring in an enormous amount of money, but money went so much farther then. It was a lot of fun, and it brought the neighborhood together socially.
I'm afraid those times will never be again. Today's children would laugh at such antics, and go back to their computer games and texting. This generation has such sophisticated toys and complex entertainment that "togetherness" is almost a thing of the past.
I visited my Aunt Addie several years before she passed away, and she recited to me some of the games they played when she was a girl. I wrote down several things, but some of the verses are missing. When I researched this, I found there were several different versions, as are a lot of folk songs. She called this "Charlie" but it is known as "Weevily Wheat."
This was her version:
Charlie, he's a fine young man.
Charlie, he's a dandy,
Charlie, he's the very boy,
Who stole the baby's candy.
Charlie's sweet and Charlie's neat
And Charlie he's a dandy
He loves to hug and kiss the girls
And buy them sugar candy.
Don't want none of your weevily wheat,
Don't want none of your barley
I want some flour and half an hour
To bake a cake for Charlie.
Aunt Addie had a faraway look in her eyes as she said softly, "I remember Chris Lanham and Clark Hanshaw, Gladys Burdette and Josh Starcher." Her voice trailed away and I knew she was back in the past, reliving the old games with her childhood friends. I am guilty of that now—I can see Gerald Braley, Betty Payne, Billy Cook, Charlie Russell, Avis Hanshaw singing and playing, "Oh, the dusty old miller, and he lived on a hill. . ." They are gone now, just as Aunt Addie's playmates are too, but in memory, they live and laugh and play once more.
I wonder if today's children will look back on bittersweet memories such as these, or will their memories consist of IPods, computer games, and all the new-fangled inventions that they use? There is nothing more important than people and our relationships with them.
I received a letter recently that I'd like to share. It is from Dave Jackson of Pt. Pleasant, and he writes, "As I grow older I feel it is important to take the time to let as many people as possible know what they have done for me.
"In a world that grows increasingly darker, your weekly column helps to keep my corner of it a little brighter. I look forward to Saturday's Gazette for your column takes everyone back to a time when the world seemed a nicer place, families were truly families, and neighbors were neighborly.
"So much of what you write I can recall from my own childhood memories—memories of camping, the mountains, fishing, and ramps. My own son loves these things, so I hope I have passed on a mountain tradition.
"Once again, all thanks for your columns, your praise of our Savior, and helping West Virginians keep in touch with their heritage."
That is my philosophy also—to tell people how I feel about them. I love people, and is that not our Savior's commandment, "Love one another as I have loved you."