The sweetness of Valentine's Day is easy to swallow

February 12, 2005|By JACQUES KELLY

I'VE BEEN watching two varieties of ads that appear this time of the year. One proclaims the winter clearance sale dregs, the 50 percent off 30 percent. The other type all come in red and are geared toward Valentine's Day.

The two were delightfully co-mingled on the morning of Feb. 14 at the old house on Guilford Avenue. There would be a blast at the doorbell, which immediately sent me and my brother and sisters scrambling. No one would be present, but the vestibule floor was filled magically with cards and small gifts left by St. Valentine.

The candy often came from one of the city's markets, in our case, Belair, Cross Street or Lexington, because as unreformed Baltimoreans, we shopped at the markets where our grandparents, and theirs before them, did.

Weather has a lot to do with the observance of a holiday. A windy, cold February day, maybe with some snow remains, puts me in the Valentine-buying spirit. I think it's contagious, too. On Thursday at Lexington Market, I watched other shoppers stand at the candy counter and place orders, well, maybe throw in a couple of extra butter creams and make it a cordial, too. And yes, one more truffle.

I think people will vacuum sweets in what is supposed to be the high diet and Lent season just because it's cold -- and maybe they're a little bored.

The winter reduced-price gifts, say an extra pair of gloves or a wool hat, made good practical sense because Baltimore remains cold in mid-February. A fresh wool scarf at a dreadful time of the year works wonders.

I've never quite approved of today's mixing up of Valentine's Day with lingerie sales and super-expensive red roses. I've always thought of it as an innocent holiday, not an intimate, passionate holiday. To me it's the day where you did a good, thoughtful deed in the name of love.

I know people buy elaborate cards, but I like to send modest ones, but a lot of them. I watched my mother write dozens of them. Instead of the cloying sentiment of the costly Valentines, she liked ones with a little humor. I always thought there is a slightly knavish side to the holiday, where both Puck and Cupid mix it up for good measure, indulging in late-winter madness. How about that red glow on our Washington Monument?

Which brings me to my story. I had gone through my lists of cards and went to the mailbox; I also shopped for my little trinkets and, on a bitter cold night this week, brought everything home, arranging it in neat piles for distribution. Then a little Valentine impishness and temptation got the best of me; the wrapping paper went flying and, within 10 minutes, I had scarfed down all (none left) the caramels, once intended for others.

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