Heart & Soul

By Penelope Foran

Y’all remember Valentine’s Day when we were kids, don’t you? Back in the “olden days,” as my granddaughters would say, it was a big deal in school. We each covered a big box with red, white or pink construction paper. Then we set to cutting out paper hearts. If you folded the construction paper in half, you could be sure that the heart was perfectly symmetrical by cutting a half-heart. Usually, paper doilies came into the picture somewhere along the way, too. In a really good year, you might even have a teacher who provided pipe cleaners.

Everyone put forth their very best effort. Brows furrowed, tongues stuck out in concentration. It was a huge undertaking, all to entice your classmates to stuff a one-sided piece of paper with a goofy picture into the slot at the top. Maybe the “card” would have a picture of a dog or a playful kitten with a greeting like: “You’re pur-r-r-rfect, Valentine.” Sometimes it was Cupid with a quiver full of arrows, imploring you to “Be mine.”

When your mom bought the packs of Valentines for you, invariably, she had to throw down an extra buck or two for an extra pack, as your class size never matched the pack size. She always groused about it, but you didn’t care, because it was Valentine’s Day!

It was the day that even a kinda’ plain kid like me could get a nod from the cutest, smartest, greatest boy in the class, the one whose dad owned the only hardware store in my small town. The one who ended up in the Key Club in high school. Blessedly, book smart though I may have been, I never realized that everyone gave everyone a Valentine. Back in the day, that’s the way it worked. Everyone’s mom made sure we all did the right thing.

But, eventually, I caught on. Valentine’s Day was for the pretty girls, the ones who didn’t wear Coke-bottle-bottom glasses. They had perfectly straight blonde hair and looked suspiciously like Marsha Brady. They had dates to the Valentine’s dances and got boxes of chocolates in their lockers. They weren’t “bookworms” or “really smart.” Or, if they were, they knew enough to keep it under wraps.

Not me. I stood on no ceremony. I was who I was. Take it or leave it. The only trouble was that most of the boys were leaving it. I tried to pretend it didn’t matter. Who cares? Well, I cared. I cared a lot. It made matters worse that my sister was gorgeous, still is actually. Woe is me.

It got to the point that I dreaded February 14th. Poor little thing. No one in the Key Club ever asked me out. No one on the football team ever asked me out. The boy I spent the most time with was on the swim team. The swim team! Oh dear.

Fast forward forty-some odd years. My husband, Gene, and I had been together for a couple of years and were solely committed to each other, although we were not married. But, in the spring of 2014, Gene became incredibly ill. A severe blood infection from a few years earlier came back to haunt him. His mild heart failure progressed rapidly. He required oxygen 24/7. The situation was grim, but I hung in there. I had promised to stay with him, and I meant every word of it.

On July 2nd, 2014, Gene received a biventricular pacemaker at MUSC. The cardiologist’s dream came true. The pacer restored Gene’s health completely. Now, my dream came true, too. Through the course of his illness, Gene finally realized that I had meant what I said. I wasn’t going anywhere. I loved him, heart and soul. And he loved me enough to marry me.

Now, here’s the kicker. Gene looks like a guy out of GQ. He played basketball in high school and was in the hottest fraternity on campus in college. He worked on Wall Street and wears Brooks Brothers clothes.

I remember when he first showed interest in me, and I asked my friend Laura why he would want a girl like me. I’m not sophisticated or chic or cosmopolitan or even terribly attractive. “Easy,” she replied. “He’s been there and done that, and now he wants someone real.” He loves me, heart and soul.

Of course, it probably didn’t hurt that I traded in my glasses for contacts and removed the chip from my shoulder. I don’t feel the need to throw down the gauntlet anymore in order to be myself.

Truth be told, what we were in high school and college isn’t at all important anymore. All that matters is the people we are today. All that matters is that we are devoted to each other, heart and soul.

This Valentine’s Day, that’s the story I’m telling my granddaughters. Valentine’s Day isn’t just for pretty girls. It’s for all of us who share the day with someone we love – friends, family or the love of our lives. I want them to know what I wish I had known, back in the “olden days.”

About this writer

  • Penelope ForanPenelope Foran resides in Pawleys Island with her soul mate Gene and their four cats. She ticky-tacs away at the computer daily and is currently pursuing several writing projects.

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2 Responses to “Heart & Soul”

  1. Penelope Foran says:

    I “hearted” your essay! It was so touching and surely written by someone with a warm heart. You are a very special “that girl”.

  2. Penelope Foran says:

    The previous post is for Diane Stark.

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