On Valentine’s Day, I was at the Hooligan household celebrating with my sister’s family and my mom. At one point we were sitting around, listening and watching as J.Hooligan went through his Valentine bag from school, extracting greetings from his classmates and reading them aloud.
I have to admit this Valentine bag ritual is new to me. I’m curious when it got started, because Diamondqueen says they never did that in class when she was in grade school in the 1970s. I was also pretty amazed at the amount of candy J. had raked in, as well as little tattoos, pencils, and even a food coupon from McDonald’s. Apparently it’s not enough to pass out Valentine cards — each comes with an extra goody of some kind.
Our practice 40+ years ago (at least in Catholic grade school) was to bring in our Valentines and simply distribute them. I think one year we had a box, but we never had special bags. Usually we were allowed class time for the passing out of Valentines, with those who had brought in cards placing them on students’ desks. There wasn’t always 100% participation. In my early grade years, I had to punch the little cardboard Valentines out of a booklet. Later, Mom purchased them in cellophane-enclosed boxes, not unlike the way kids’ Valentines are packaged today.
As J. read some of the printed sentiments on his Valentine cards, I had a sudden flashback that had me twitching. I’ve always heard about bad acid flashbacks; this was a bad Valentine flashback, and it had nothing to do with the cards we handed out as kids, or Valentines I received at any other point in my life.
For nine years I was employed full time as a greeting card writer (for the old Gibson Greetings company in Cincinnati). I wrote every kind of card for every kind of situation. The flashback I had was to trying to write sentiments for the packaged kids’ Valentines.
I don’t know why I got so twitchy remembering the experience. It wasn’t that bad; but it wasn’t necessarily that easy, either.
I think a package of Valentines required 12-14 verses. Some of these were simply chosen from the “banked” verses by the seasonal editor. In other cases, though, new verses were needed, especially if the packaged Valentines involved a licensed property (i.e., all Disney cards or Sesame Street cards or some recent movie for which the company had the license).
You have such little space on a kid’s Valentine that words have to be kept to a minimum. Hence, regardless of the design, there are a lot of “You’re cool!”, “Have an awesome day!”, “You’re one terrific Valentine!” and the like (usually with the ubiquitous exclamation point).
The challenge came when an editor needed something “different.” I and other writers (staff and freelance) would turn in pages of pithy sentiments, often pun-dominated, which could be painful to try to produce.
The card that triggered my flashback was a Cars Valentine J. received, with one of the characters saying, “You rev me up, Valentine!” Aaagh. Suddenly it all came flooding back. Staring at pages of licensed property artwork, making lists of key words that might work with a licensed character or situation, then struggling to make a lively, humorous verse of about five words. It was horrible, I tell you! Horrible!
It’s a sign of the emotional trauma I suffered that I can’t remember a single Valentine I wrote for those kids packages, or even the characters I had to write for. At some point, I very well may have submitted a version of “You rev me up, Valentine!” And any other corny, obvious line you can think of. I might not remember because perhaps I never had any accepted for publication, but I think I did. One or two here and there. What became so demoralizing was beating my brains out to come up with original, creative lines for the assigned art, only to have the editor go back to the tried-and-true: “You’re cool!” “Be mine!” All that angst for nothing.
I make almost all of my own cards now — not just for Valentine’s Day but for all occasions. And I rarely come up with anything beyond a basic “Happy Valentine’s Day” or “Happy Birthday,” usually using a rubber stamp. I put most of my effort into the creation and construction of the card itself.
Although I did write short verses for the Hooligans’ Valentines. They’re both Star Wars maniacs at the moment. So I digitally altered images of Anikan and Padme, putting J. and S.Hooligan’s heads on their bodies (respectively). Then I printed out my verse: “Happy Valentine’s Day — and may the Force be with you!” shaped in that kind of elongated pyramid style like the introduction at the beginning of the first movie, printed out on special silvery, sparkly background paper. The kids loved them.
Although, now that I think about it, I DID get kind of twitchy when I was coming up with that verse.