My husband, Hank, calls Valentine's Day a "Hallmark Holiday." He says it's a commercial ploy to boost card sales, and I vividly remember my disappointment on our first Valentine's Day as a married couple.
We were at home in our tiny apartment. Hank was upstairs watching the UCLA Bruins play the Oregon Ducks in a tightly matched basketball game.
The doorbell rang. "I got a big box of Mrs. Field's cookies," I called out to my husband. "They just arrived special delivery!"
I rushed upstairs to thank him, but stopped halfway up after I read the card. "Happy Valentine's Day to my new daughter-in-law. Love, Bob."
Resigned, I pried open the box and continued up the stairs. "They're from your dad," I said with a sigh as I plopped down on the sofa next to him. I offered him a cookie and he took it without comment. Then he noticed the disappointment on my face. "Look, I love you," he told me, "but I'm not going to let a greeting-card company tell me when to show it."
"Sure," I said, hugging the cookie tin a little tighter.
Four years later, Hank actually gave in on Valentine's Day and presented me with a bouquet of pink camellias from the garden. "It wasn't my idea," he confessed, as he handed me the flowers.
"It was mine, Mommy," our toddler, Allan, piped up.
For years after that, though, Hank was resolute. Whenever I presented him with a Valentine, he'd thank me and re-explain how he felt about the occasion.
I started to dread Valentine's Day. I cringed when I saw those chalky heart-shaped candies with the cute messages on them, the big helium heart-shaped balloons, the "dozen roses" specials.
With three children in the house, I felt it was important to make a big deal about Valentine's for them. I decorated the front door with hearts, helped make valentines, and even took our youngest son, Joe, to buy some roses for his girlfriend. Waiting patiently in the driveway while our 11-year-old rang the doorbell to make his big delivery, I saw him strike out, too. The girl was at a soccer game, and he had to hand the flowers to her mother.
"Look, I'm not expecting the big gift, or an enormous basket of roses, or even a lousy box of stale chocolates from the drug store," I told my husband of 15 years. "I just want a day where we celebrate love. That's all. Even a message in lipstick on the bathroom mirror would be great and it wouldn't cost you a thing."
"Pick a day," Hank said.
"April 4th," I replied, the first date that popped into my head.
"I now dub April 4th 'Heather Appreciation Day,' " he replied. "That date will be our own Valentine's Day. Not Hallmark's."
And so Hank and I would have a special dinner or a romantic lunch on April 4. No gifts, just time together. It really should have been dubbed "Heather and Hank Appreciation Day."
Then it happened: Four years ago, he forgot. By 5 p.m., after several phone conversations with him, it was obvious. I decided to remind him with a little humor and make him a "special dinner."
I opened a can of tuna and stuck a plastic fork in it. Placing it in the center of a big white plate, I picked a weed from our garden and put it in a little vase.
That night, with my husband's eyes fixed on the screen of his laptop, I stood in front of him, dinner tray in hand. "Hi," he said without looking up, fingers still tapping the keys.
"I brought you a special dinner," I said, without any sarcasm.
He looked up from the screen, glanced at the tray, and cracked a weak smile. "That for me?"
I've never been known for my cooking, and I could tell that, for a moment, Hank thought that this was really his dinner.
"I made you a special dinner for our 'special' day."
"Oh, no! I forgot," he said, sheepishly.
The next two years, he didn't forget "Heather Appreciation Day." Last year, in our 25th year of marriage, we celebrated it in New York with our children.
I hope he remembers next year. But just in case, I'm keeping a can of tuna in the cupboard.