I forgot to mention Valentine's Day. I've never quite gotten it. Harmless enough, I suppose. Other than Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries, I tend to resent holidays designed to make us buy more stuff. Oh yes, there's Mother's Day and Father's Day and Grandparents' Day. Every duty we owe to others, we turn into a duty to buy stuff.
I'd always thought it was mainly for the girls. But if you have a wife or a sweetheart, aren't you supposed to be rather attentive throughout the year, surprising her with the occasional gift? Why must there be a day when you must give her one? It just sets up distracted people like me for a big fall, and a big price to pay in terms of shame, public degradation, and groveling at the feet of the one you love to beg forgiveness and to ask if there isn't some way to make it up. "Nope. Better never than late."
Well, this year I remembered. On Wednesday night I got her a dozen yellow roses with a fiery orange fringe at the top and set them out after she went to bed. She found them in the morning with a "sweet" note attached. I got up later after she'd already gone to work (I work mostly nights) and wandered out to the living room to find a big box in my chair. There's a Valentine's card on it. Inside the box are about 15 volumes of Will and Ariel Durant's The Story of Civilization, something I'd always wanted. The books are old but in mint condition. She found the set in an antiques gift shop whose owners were unaware of the value, so my wife got the whole thing for 25 bucks. There was also a 50 dollar gift certificate to a local art supply store. And a paint brush, a fine, one inch, Grumbacher sable that I had previously forgone purchasing because of the prohibitive cost: 35 dollars. Yep. 35 bucks for a single brush. But she'd hunted it down and gotten it, no mean feat considering she knew nothing about paint brushes. But then I remembered the sly questions the day I came back from the store grumbling.
"What kind of brush was it?"
"Kolinsky sable, I think."
"And what's it for?"
Leaves minimal visible brush strokes, I said.
"And how much was it?"
"35 bucks. Outrageous. I'll work with what I've got."
"I don't blame you," she said.
Of course, I wasn't even thinking about Valentine's Day (still several weeks away, out of radar range) and her questions seemed normal.
So as I stood there looking at the box full of a 120 dollars worth of goodies, I thought, "What is this? A competition?" It made my dozen roses look pathetic. "Oh, the roses were perfect," she'd say later, enjoying the high ground.
Men will never be as clever or inventive as women at this kind of thing. Men don't stow away information for future use the way women do. It's not in their genes. While men are thinking, "This is a waste of time and money," she's thinking, "If it will make him happy, money is no object." As I said, I'd thought this day was supposed to be about the girls, but somehow it's changed. Or has it always been this way? She's always given me something on V-Day, but I'd thought it one of her endearing peculiarities. If she forgot, I wouldn't even notice. But she never forgets. Some years the only reason I remember my own birthday is that, when I get home from work, a present is waiting for me. If she forgot that, I'd probably remember eventually, but I wouldn't have to forgive her because I wouldn't be mad. We're all marching toward the grave a year at a time, and if you fail to remind me of it I won't hate you. One more trinket won't put it off by a second.
If St. Valentine's such a great guy, why don't we celebrate him? Oh, you see, we don't celebrate saints in this country. We celebrate occasions, narcissistic exercises in material well-being and commercial boosterism. What did Valentine do, anyway, to become a saint? I guess it's not important. I remember giving a girl I liked in the 4th grade a Valentine's card. Teacher gave me permission to walk it down to her in the middle of class. She came to the door, I gave it to her, and she started crying in front of the whole class. Made my day. She was also a bit of a drama queen, precociously so. But I'll bet a lot of girls don't get anything on V-day, do they? That's another reason I don't like it. It reminds the lonely of the very thing they don't need reminding of. Is there some process by which a holiday can be abolished? It's probably just me. I don't get it.
Anyway, I've started dipping into the Durant volumes. I like reading about the history of philosophy - Descartes, Leibniz, Hume, Kant and the crowd - and I'll be interested to see how he treats early Christianity. I've already read about its founding Personality, and it ain't too hot. Will was one of those Catholics who left and didn't come back until just about time for the death bed, well after he'd written the books. No second chances. I'll be using the gift card this weekend. And I put the sable brush to use today, applying an Alizarin Crimson glaze over a painting's background. Looks like a rich port wine. And no brush strokes either. Performs as advertised. I'll have to thank her again tomorrow. Worth every penny.