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Posted: February 13, 2011 12:30 a.m.

Harwell: Happy Valentine’s Day

Well, we’ve survived the great blizzards of 2011. The sky is blue, the temperature is rising, little buds have appeared on the end of tree branches, and Monday is Valentine’s Day. Things are looking up.

Valentine’s Day is always a cause for celebration. That is, if one has remembered to prepare for it ahead of time. There have been occasions, I must admit, where in my human frailty I’ve sailed through the entire day as happy as a lark, only to return home about supper time to the gut-wrenching realization that something was amiss.

Usually the first clue that I was in serious trouble was the sight of my belongings piled on the back porch. No flowers? No chocolate? Basically that meant no supper, either.

But not this year: I’m ahead of the game. And, as a community service to any who might have fallen into the trap of forgetfulness, I offer this column to promote marital harmony throughout our land.

Some customs and traditions change over time. Valentine’s Day stands as a rare exception, however. No matter how much my wife may express opposition to any such gifts, and I’m led to believe from decades of comparing notes with other married men that this is true o’er the entire realm of femininity, nothing is appreciated more by any woman on Valentine’s Day than flowers and chocolate.

Newlywed husbands, pay attention: I did not say flowers or chocolate. That’s flowers - AND - chocolate. Get that straight now, and it will pay dividends in wedded bliss for eons to come.

As I said, though, over time some things do change. I’ve noticed that as my wife and I have grown older that she appreciates any little act of kindness or helpfulness I might perpetrate. I’m not smart enough to figure these things out on my own, you understand, but have been blessed to have associates, colleagues and friends who have pointed these vital things out to me.

For example, in the mid-1980s, when our three children were very young, a fellow member of the bass section in the choir at Covington’s First United Methodist Church intimated that he’d started cooking breakfast for his wife. I asked how that had come to be, and he replied that he realized his wife had cooked breakfast for the first 25 years of their marriage, and he figured he should do the cooking for the next 25 years.

Well, I got to thinking about that in light of the fact that, at the time, my wife was doing all the cooking. And most of the cleaning. And taking care of the children. And teaching school. And, amazingly, putting up with me, as well.

So I borrowed the idea and started cooking breakfast. It may not sound like much, but it made a tremendous difference in her day. Those 20 to 30 minutes after the alarm clock rang were some of the best minutes in her day, as she could continue snoozing to the smell of coffee perking and breakfast cooking.

Alas, I digress. Do not forget about flowers and chocolate, now.

There are other ways to show affection, of course. I probably ought not tell this story, but in the spirit of the moment, why not?

When we were first married, we lived in a tiny three-room apartment which a little old lady had fashioned from the back porch of her 19th-century wood frame house. Our rent was $35 a month. On really cold winter nights, a thin sheen of ice would form in the toilet bowl. But early on each frosty morning, to show my affection for this woman who inexplicably chose to love me, I’d sit on that toilet seat just to warm it up for my sweet wife.

Yeah, maybe I shouldn’t have told that one.

But Monday is Valentine’s Day, and for all hopeless romantics out there, let me share with you a classic verse from Elizabeth Barrett Browning:

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach, when feeling out of sight for the ends of Being and ideal Grace.

"I love thee to the level of everyday’s most quiet need, by sun and candle light. I love thee freely, as men strive for Right; I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise. I love thee with a passion put to use in my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith. I love thee with a love I seemed to lose with my lost saints. I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears of all my life!

"And, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death."

Happy Valentine’s Day!


Nat Harwell is a long-time resident of Newton County. His columns appear regularly on Sundays.

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