The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Ugly Valentine

By Beulah S. Fox © 1986

Issue: February, 1986

There are several different explanations for the custom of sending valentines on Valentines Day. All of them are probably inaccurate. The most plausible is that Valentine Day is a survival of a February 5, Roman Festival. It was once the custom to draw lots to decide which young man and woman should be each others valentine for the coming year. The couples would then exchange gifts, and sometimes they even became engaged.

In the 30's some valentines were printed on a sheet of cheap paper and might read something like this, a picture of an old maid at the tip of the paper and a verse saying:

You're afraid of your shadow
and scared of a mouse.
Wouldn't you feel safer
With a man in the house?

You would have to have known my Grandmother to fully appreciate this valentine story. Grandmother was probably 80 years old. No one knew when she was born. Once I searched the court house records. In it I found her birthday recorded, turned a few pages and there it was recorded differently, one birthday in August and one in November. Anyway Grandma liked to wear red, had gray hair that wandered out of place, doing what it wanted to do, just like Grandma herself. She said exactly what she thought, sometimes hurting peoples feeling. To me that was a part of her and I loved her very much.

Holidays meant little to her. It was special if she ate with us on a holiday. But one day all of that changed. I never remembered Grandma getting a piece of mail. My Grandpa got some mail but Grandma couldn't read or write. She learned to count by counting eggs. On this day an envelope came addressed to her: Mrs. Christena Stowers, Cove Creek, VA. She recognized her name and got very excited. She opened it and there was an ugly valentine. This was in the 30's. An old woman in a red dress and apron was sitting in a chair with a huge mouth. Below the picture was a verse about gossiping. Now I knew my grandmother didn't gossip. She didn't talk a lot. She just said what she thought. I was thinking, "Who did this? Why did they want to hurt a sweet old lady?" About that time I noticed Grandmother. She wasn't acting as I thought she'd be. She was so happy, really happy. Somebody had sent her some mail.

She was proud of that valentine, so proud that she tacked it up above the table and left it there. When she had company, which was often, she would point to the valentine. Until her death that valentine was the only picture hanging in her dining room.