Normally the visage of a flying, diapered baby with a penchant for archery would be alarming. But not on Valentine’s Day!
Yes, yes, those of us who have spent the Big Day of Love and Lust without either often dread V-Day. Nonetheless, my affection for Valentine’s Day was born early on. Join me, won’t you, for a trip down Mushy Memory Lane?
I come from what is often referred to as a broken family. That’s a harsh term for a family that has experienced divorce, an ensuing custody battle, wrangling over property rights, and all those unpleasant relationship realities that same-sex couples seldom had to endure before the U.S. Supreme Court equalized our romantic relationships in June 2015.
The upside was, my mother eventually found her true soul mate, and fell deeply and permanently in love, providing me with a strong and devoted stepfather and stepsiblings whom I couldn’t be closer to if we actually shared the same genetics. Our two families blended into one, big, happy, noisy brood. Think The Brady Bunch, but without the lesbian maid.
And here comes the mushy part: My parents were married on Valentine’s Day. Cupid was working overtime that day, for sure.
Then, every year for the more than 50 years they were together, my mother would honor the day by making a single-layer Valentine’s cake. She had one of those heavy metal heart-shaped cake pans — just one. Why she never bought another one, I don’t know. But every year she’d noisily fetch that heart-shaped pan out of the back of the cupboard, whip up a box of Duncan Hines spice cake mix (my dad’s favorite), and then pour what would usually be too much of the batter into that solo cake pan.
While the light-tan colored cake was cooling, I’d always flip it upside down and say, “Hey, now it looks like a butt.” Even as a kid, I liked to work blue.
Then Mom would slather it with just a drop of red McCormick food coloring mixed into vanilla cream icing, decorating the rim of the cake with those red-hot candy hearts. If that doesn’t say “Happy Valentine’s Day,” “Happy Anniversary,” and “I love you” all in one fell sweet confectionary swoop, I don’t know what does.
At 4:10 p.m., Dad would come home from work as he predictably did every day. (There was no such thing as bad traffic in our small town Ohio existence.) He’d smell the aroma of that annual spice cake tradition as he walked through the door, grin, and invariably say, “Oh, isn’t that nice?” in kind of a sing-songy way and hang his work jacket and hat on the banister of the basement steps.
They’d exchange “How-was-your-day?” type banter. Dad would wash up and read the paper as mom finished preparing our Valentine’s meal. We kids would be on our knees on the living room floor, reviewing the Valentines that were dropped by our classmates into our red, white, and pink decorated shoeboxes. As long as I got one from Bev Howe, I was happy.
Pork chops would be served for Valentine’s Anniversary dinner, usually. We’d sit at the kitchen table, say the blessing, and Dad would pull a big Valentine/Anniversary Hallmark card from inside his shirt. We’d eat the pork chops, and then came the cake. Dad, rightfully so, was always served the biggest piece. I saved the red-hot candy hearts from my piece to eat last because they provided a pleasing, final, zesty note to the sweetness of the cake. Such a refined palate for such a young child.
Sure, my parents had our share of challenges, ups and downs, and arguments. But overall, they proved time and again that they were meant to be together. As a result, I learned a lot about what love is.
• Love is when you can’t wait to see each other at the end of the day. And if they usually return at 4:10 p.m., if they haven’t arrived home by 4:15, you don’t panic, but your soul doesn’t feel settled until they walk through the door.
• Love is loving the sound of your partner’s snoring. My mother would explain that that sound meant her love was close beside her, and all was well. Turns out, she was right.
• Love is recognizing that everything your love says is Dorothy Parker-level brilliant. OK, maybe not everything. It’s just important that they think that you think that.
• Love is more than heart-shaped Duncan Hines spice cake rimmed with heart-shaped candies. It’s knowing that broken homes don’t have to stay broken. And for me, love is finally recognizing after all these years how immensely blessed and lucky I was to have grown up in a home filled with love. So here’s to a happy, spicy, mushy Valentine’s Day! Pass the cake!