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Robert A. Mills

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MINE!
2/11/2012 6:29:40 AM
(Author’s Note: You will notice that quotation marks, apostrophes, dashes, etc. come out as square little boxes on my so-called newsletter, except when you read the column by clicking on the word blogs two lines above the photo at www.authorsden.com/robertmills. This is an anomaly caused by Authors Den, and they can’t seem to fix it. I apologize for the inconvenience.)
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This column is my take on Valentine’s Day, re-printed annually since 1949:

Don’t blame Christina Aquilera for murdering the “Star Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl XLV—was the one at XLVI much better? The worst we can slap Aquilera with is AA—Anthem Abuse — the piece was already dead the day José Feliciano strangled it at old Tiger Stadium prior to game 5 of the World Series in 1968. I was sitting in the press box when Red Smith got and walked out, snarling, “They don’t pay me enough to listen to crap like this! Remind me to send Scott Key a Valentine’s Day card!”

Smith, a truly great American and New York Times icon, had long departed his mortal coil by the time of Aquilera and XLV, but he too might have wondered why she was hired in the first place. The idiots who retained Aquilera should have been summarily dismissed and never given a responsible job again—especially since Lea Michelle and Kristin Chenoweth were probably available.

In fact, the “Star Spangled Banner” itself should have been retired years ago, in favor of “America the Beautiful” or even “God Bless America.” An old English drinking song, despite noble words by a minor poet, it has never really cut it since becoming our sacred hymn in 1931. “Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light? . . . Land of the free!” Come on.

In any event, Red Smith may have had the right idea. We have always had misgivings about certain holidays, and without allotting suspected ‘Scroogisms’ to any specific occasion, we will, to the relief of many, address our comments solely to Valentine’s Day.

Universally, Valentine cards, flowers and candy—over forty BILLION assorted offerings — are given to people who need assurances they are obviously cared about. In 1840 a lady named Esther Howland began selling Valentine cards (was she possibly employed by Hallmark?) and they immediately caught on. Today, Christmas cards are still the drivel of choice, but Valentine cards are a close second and gaining ground.

It is interesting to note that women purchase 87.7% of all Valentine cards. 12.1% are scooped up by men (male guilt-reducers?). The remaining 0.2% is relocated to the stockroom for use next year.

History tells us a fellow named Atiquilla Valentinus was a Roman priest in the 3rd century, at the time of Emperor Claudius II, and he (Claudius) had the brilliant idea that unmarried blokes made better warriors than family men with kids. So, he banned all nuptials. “Hold your war horses,” said Fr. Valentinus, “not on my watch! Any of those boys and girls want to get married, tell ‘em to come and see me! I’ll hitch ‘em up—so long as none of them is gay!”

And come they did, by the hundreds! And Valentinus married them — in secret!

Of course, some spoilsport blew the whistle and ol’ Claudius got wind of it. Valentinus was promptly arrested and sentenced to death. “Off with his head, for God’s sake! Or at least, his pecker!”

While he was incarcerated and awaiting his ill-deserved fate, he actually (if accidentally) sent the very first known “Valentine”. It seems his jailor, Flavius Enictus, had a young and lissome daughter named Vivian who often visited the priest and brought him chocolates, his only worldly passion. Shortly before his execution, he wrote her, asking for some particularly coveted bonbons — and he signed the note “From your Valentinus.”

A lot of people (like afore mentioned Esther Howland) decided February 14 was a good day to celebrate Valentine’s Day, because that’s the date of Fr. Valentinus’s martyrdom in 270 AD. Naturally, once the story got out, he was canonized, and St.Valentinus came to symbolize the sort of chap everyone admires: sympathetic, industrious, inventive, heroic — and, of course, dramatically and incurably romantic.

Finally, about two hundred years later, Pope Galesius threw up his hands in despair and said, “Okay, okay, you guys win! I declare it’s henceforth official: February 14 is now and forever to be known as Valentine’s Day. Send a memo to Hallmark and Whitman’s, and make sure we get our cut.”

But the story doesn’t end there. Along came the Middle Ages, and all local peasants and their clergy in England and France had some idea that on February 14 the grouse, geese, robins, sparrows, pheasants, et al began their mating season, confirming once and for all that mid-February — Valentine’s Day — was a time of co-habitation, fornication, connubial bliss and unrestricted conjugal visits.

Quite taken by this, it is reputed that while pining away in the Tower of London, Charles, Duke of Orleans, penned an original Valentine poem to his wife shortly after he was taken prisoner during the Battle of Agincourt. It is alleged he wrote this heart-melting diatribe in 1415, and the next time you’re in town you can actually see it at the British Library, along with the Valentine to Catherine of Valois King Henry V commissioned John Lydgate to write on his behalf (could this possibly be where Rostand got the idea for “Cyrano”?)

That’s all well and good, you say, but what about Cupid?

Well, Cupid is to Valentine’s Day pretty much what Santa Claus is to Christmas. He’s just a myth made up by the Romans—well, first the Greeks, only they called him Eros (guess what word we get from that!) Anyway, his mom Aphrodite gave the kid this bow and arrow set for his birthday (“Be careful with that thing or you’ll put somebody’s eye out!”)

According to the myth, if Cupid shoots you with one of his golden tips, you’ll go gah-gah over the next person you encounter. Right.

The idea of Cupid became so popular (like Santa) that he now symbolizes Valentine’s Day. 99.4% of the cards, flowers and candy sold today embody his persona—and to hell with St.Valentinus.

The point is, like Christmas, Valentine’s Day has fallen into the slimy pond of commercial enterprise and drowned in a myriad of misconceptions that have nothing to do with its original meaning. The distribution of syrupy verse few can read without gagging, caloric candy that will grow moldy and stale, and flowers that will wilt and fade before we can recall with fondness why they were sent in the first place, have become, as have the doling out of gaily wrapped gifts in late December, a rite of expected passage—as meaningless as it is phony.

All right, perhaps we have succumbed to the comfort of a crotchety Ebenezer Cupidity, but what misdemeanor have we committed in calling a spade a spade? . . .Is it a felony to prefer Memorial Day, Flag Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Day over Valentine’s Day and Christmas?

If so, Your Honor, we plead guilty and throw our self on the arrows of the court. . . . But don’t get us started on Presidents’ Day!


Copywrite©2012 by Robert A. Mills, all rights reserved


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