Whittier Elementary School in Pocatello was a rectangular, two-story, red-brick, building. I attended first through sixth grade there. It was a solid part of my childhood, that is now gone. It was demolished a few years after I left and replaced with a parking lot. There is no building to drive by and show to my children. Pictures are rare and poorly framed. It is as if my childhood is only a myth. But there are some memories that are still clear enough to verify it’s existence: I still remember my sixth grade class under Mrs. Banyard. I still remember Tracy S., and Valentine’s Day that year.
Tracy was the best looking boy in the school—tall, blond and with a great smile. He was one of the top students, athletic, and an artist. Most of the girls liked him; including me. I had a crush on Tracy since fifth grade, possibly fourth. However, I was awkward, had plain brown hair, and I wore glasses. That last one was the killer. My crush was mostly admiration from afar.
However, when he played four-square with the girls, I was always in the line. When he played basket-ball with the boys, I’d join the girls who watched. When he became friends with one of my younger brothers, spending his recesses with him for several weeks, I found excuses to spend my recesses with the two of them. Mostly I felt insignificant.
But once or twice, during class, when our work was done and Mrs. Banyard was preoccupied, Tracy would turn in his desk and challenge me to a “stare-down.” I’d take my glasses off and stare back until I had to look away, flustered.
Also, once a week we were rivals before an after-school church activity. There, while we waited for it to begin, I led the girls in storming the stage and he led the boys in defending it. It was the highlight of my week.
But though Tracy and I were friends, I had no illusions that he regarded me as anything more. Still, I would hope when he’d look into my eyes and not blink while seconds after seconds ticked by.
For Valentine’s Day that year, Mrs. Banyard said we’d be drawing names and each would make one valentine that we’d all vote on later for a favorite. She placed the names of all our classmates into containers—one for the boys’ names and one for the girls’. Then she passed them around for us to draw. By the time she got to my desk at the end of one of the rows, most of the names were gone. I reached in and pulled out a paper. Opening it slowly, I believed in miracles. It said Tracy S.
I fretted over that valentine. How could I say what my eleven year old heart felt? At home, while I was reading a magazine for children, I came across a poem that seemed to say it for me. My materials were few: red construction paper, white paper and some white trim, but I carefully copied the poem inside the resulting valentine. Although it was anonymous, he would know eventually that it was from me. I was taking a risk.
It’s something girls often do. We make fools of ourselves over boys.
That week the valentines began to arrive and were placed on a back table for everyone to look at before school or after lunch. There were rumors that some of the boys had arranged with each other to get the names they wanted. The girls giggled as they imagined who was matched up. As the valentines came in, they seemed all pretty standard, until the last day when Tracy brought his.
It was ten times larger than any of the other valentines. His artistic abilities had drawn something beautiful on the pink paper trimmed with white lace. Everyone pointed and whispered. Before the voting, I think Mrs. Banyard tried to bring attention to some of the others. She selected a few to share before the class. One was mine. My face turned red as she opened it up to read aloud the poem inside. The poem that clearly had the words “I love you,” in the rhyme. She thought the maker of the card had written it themselves.
I didn’t say a word. I had written simple poems and she probably knew that and so the conclusion wasn’t that far of a reach. But to read it aloud! After that, how could I let anyone know it was from me?
Her efforts didn’t matter. The voting was almost unanimous for the beautiful valentine Tracy had made. At the end of the day, we waited to see who he would give it to. By then, everyone knew he’d traded for the name he wanted. Nobody even noticed when I gave him my simple red one that professed how I felt. I don’t think he noticed.
When it was his turn, he took the large card and walked down an aisle away from where I sat, and placed it in front of the prettiest girl in the class: Heidi. Then he hurried back to his desk while classmates made the typical sounds and comments.
Valentines is a wonderful holiday when you are loved back. Thankfully, the pain of that day years ago has blown away like the dust from the debris of my grade school. But sometimes I still remember.
And then I am thankful for my DH who brings me valentines and roses and has never broken my heart.