Valentine’s Day

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(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange has discovered over the years that good intentions aren’t enough for a successful Valentine’s Day. You’ve got to use your brains, too.

(LANGE) I haven’t always been the sweet, thoughtful guy I am today. Nobody, for example, ever told me romance was an essential part of a loving relationship. I figured you fell in love, got married and brought home money while your wife cooked meals and raised kids. My family was deeply affected by the Great Depression, so I never would have made any gesture that wasn’t practical. Mother tells me that our first Christmas together, I gave her a pocket comb with a loving note that said, “Now you won’t have to borrow mine.” That’s a little hard to believe.

Just think of all the occasions upon which we’re supposed to be creative: Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, birthday, wedding anniversary. Coming up with something new for each one is a challenge. To be romantic on top of that is more than most of us can manage.

Especially Valentine’s Day. Of all the silly traditions, this one takes the cake. Most of us start swapping valentines back in second grade. I was kind of sweet on Catherine Coburn, but she never sent me one. She sat right in front of me and never got over my dipping her left braid into my inkwell.

Valentine’s Day is associated with love because it’s the saint’s day closest to the Roman fertility festival, Lupercalia. During the 19th century, people began swapping cards, and now it’s become de rigeur. I wouldn’t dream of not sending one to my beloved. Not any more, anyway.

Mother and I are usually away on that weekend, at the Canadian Ski Marathon in Quebec. Valentine’s Day is a much bigger deal up there than here, and I’ve found the enthusiasm of it infectious. It’s got me to considering how wonderfully Mother’s changed my life over the past 45 years. So now I call ahead to make sure there are flowers in the hotel room when we get there; and I notice the desk clerks are very attentive to the romantic old guy who’d do a thing like that.

The best I ever did, though, was the year the Annual Geriatric Ski Tour was on Valentine’s Day, and I wasn’t even going to be home. The night before, a dozen people were coming over to pack food for the trip. Nothing I could think of seemed like enough.

So I answered an ad in the paper and, during the evening while we were packing oatmeal and gorp, there came a knock at the door. A barbershop quartet marched into the room, surrounded Mother, handed her a rose and a bon bon, and began serenading her. It was one of the greatest coups of my life. She was tickled pink, the other wives were dazzled and my buddies were pretty upset. Ta da!

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire. The flowers are ordered and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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