Though Valentine’s Day is typically a holiday reserved for lovers, over the years, many of my most precious Valentine’s Day cards did not come from, as you might think, a significant other. Rather, they came from the other man in my life, my dad. For as long as I can remember, he sent hand-selected greeting cards to my sisters and me, each and every Valentine’s Day. I always looked forward to finding the frosty or hot pink Hallmark envelope in my mailbox, addressed to Ms. Mary Burt, with his chicken scratch attorney writing, and the words “Do not open til Feb 14th.” Despite his intimidating and sometimes overbearing demeanor, he was also a very sensitive and thoughtful man, with a soft spot for the women in his life, of which there were plenty. He had three daughters from a previous marriage, Marci (who has since passed away), Jenny, and Diana, a step daughter Laurie, a foster daughter Karin and me. So in addition to showering my mom with a card, flowers, candy and a little bling, bling, he would also send a card to all his daughters to let us know he was thinking about us. I think he also wanted to make sure we received something in case we were either a) single or b) dating a loser who didn’t think to buy a card.
Valentine’s Day 2001 came only 12 days after my dad was diagnosed with terminal, inoperable cancer and given only a few months to live. He was much too weak to go out and purchase cards, but I couldn’t bare the thought of not having at least one more card. So, on February 10th, I headed to Rite Aid and picked out seven Valentine’s Day card; one for each of his ladies. I thought it would be a nice surprise for all my sisters and my mom who were all certainly thinking the same thing; that we had seen the last of our special cards from Dad.
Later that night I brought the bag of cards into his den and laid them on his desk, next to the back scratcher and the mug of pencils that said “You take it, you return it.” He smiled. The moment was both magical and awkward; there was an elephant in the room…the unspoken reason behind my purchasing the cards. But nevertheless, he was touched and I think very glad to have the opportunity to wish his lovely ladies one last Valentine’s Day sentiment.
And although I had purchased the cards myself, I still felt that flutter of excitement to see mine arrive in the mailbox on February 14th. I couldn’t wait to open it and read his message. It was not the card itself that I looked forward to every year, it was the handwritten message inside that I couldn’t wait to read. He always took the time to write a unique, personalized, heartfelt note inside. I never once received a card from my father that did not have a handwritten note in addition to the pre-printed message. He was “old-fashioned” that way. And sentimental.
Until recently I had forgotten about that “last” card. But the other day, as I was going through my old scrapbooks I came across the card. My heart stopped. I flashed back to the day I stood in the Rite Aid card aisle, trying to pick “just the right card” for each of my siblings and my mom. I had hand selected each one with thought and care, just as he would have. Now, I sat looking down at the card. I opened it slowly, deliberately.
TO MY VALENTINE:
“Dearest Mary – You have been so loving and thoughtful and helping and just plain wonderful during this period which I know has been hard on you. I couldn’t have made it through so well without you – you are a wonder and a treasure. You are such a wonderful person. I’m so proud to be your father. I cherish you.
I cherish this card.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Dad! I heart you.