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Vintage Valentines

02/14/08 7:55AM By Leora Dowling
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(HOST) Writer and commentator Leora Dowling has been thinking about Valentines - and how the messages they carry can sometimes transcend time.

(DOWLING) When my husband gives me a card I usually don’t throw it away, I go to the bookshelf, find a book big enough to hold the card, and tuck it between the pages.

Time goes by.

Then one day, always by chance, I make a pleasant discovery: an anniversary card dated 1993 next to a sonnet, a birthday card next to a recipe for Osso bucco.

Late this autumn something similarly wonderful happened: I found a lovely cache of old greeting cards, none of which had been addressed to me.  They were in a box inside a box out in the old barn - a box I’d managed to ignore for years.

The big box contained things my mother hadn’t been able to throw away. Treasures, like the American flag presented to the family at her father’s funeral (grandpa was a veteran of World War I).

In the smaller box I found some correspondence.

My discovery included letters written to my grandparents by my mother and aunts - to update them on how the new grandchildren were getting along.

And those cards I mentioned, tucked in little envelopes that promised something special - and delivered.

They were valentines - sweet, old-fashioned valentines.  Heart shaped and fan shaped, with pink satin bows or faded fringe, and lots of flowers: roses, violets, forget-me-nots.  Charming little cards on which I found written: 'To grandmother with love from Jean"; "To grandfather," signed Barbara: and "To grandmother and grandfather on Valentines Day, love Evelyn."

I had to think for a moment.  Evelyn was my mother, Jean and Barbara, her sisters.

These had been sent to my great-grandparents.

They’d been inscribed almost 80 years ago and saved first by my great-grandmother Hannah Terwilliger; then by her daughter, Ruth McLaughlin; who passed them on to her eldest daughter, my mother, Evelyn Sparapani.  Now they were in my possession.  Things my great-grandmother had held dear were in my hands.  I was the fourth generation to open these valentines...

I have some pictures of my great-grandparents.  One, an unsmiling, sepia-toned portrait, hangs in my hallway.  It’s of Hannah and Eugene Terwilliger in their later years, when they would have received those cards from their granddaughters.  And smiled.

As I held the valentines, sent by girls I had only ever known as women, given to people I had only ever heard stories of, I knew I wasn’t the one who was going to break the chain.  But I have no children, and putting them in my books didn’t seem right either.

So I decided to return those cards to their senders.

My mom's gone now, but in December I addressed Christmas cards to my Aunts Barbara and Jean and then put in an unexpected gift - a tangible reminder of family love that won’t be forgotten: a selection of vintage Valentine’s Day cards.

They smiled when they saw those cards again.  I know, because they wrote to tell me.
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