Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Valentine’s Day: Of conversation hearts, sparkly sugar & a whole lot of love February 14, 2022

Vintage valentines from my mom’s collection. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2019)

AT THE RISK of sounding old, which, by the way, I sort of am, I remember Valentine’s Day back-in-the-day, meaning the 1960s.

I remember bringing a shoebox to Vesta Elementary School, covering the box with white paper, cutting a slit in the lid (the teacher helped) and then pasting red construction paper hearts onto the wrapped box. Whew, that was one long sentence. If I didn’t have a shoebox, I crafted a mega envelope from white paper, decorated it with paper hearts and then taped the valentine holder onto the edge of my desk. Either way, I had a vessel to hold valentines.

I carefully picked the valentines I gave to each classmate. This is from my mom’s collection. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2019)

On the day of our Valentine’s party, I arrived at school with cards carefully chosen for each classmate. These were not Disney-themed valentines pulled from a box, but rather generic, often flowery, cards punched from an over-sized book. It took effort to remove those cards. But it took even more effort to choose just the right one for each classmate.

An “I love you” valentine heart crafted for me by one of my children (I think my son) in elementary school. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Words mattered to me even back then. I didn’t want anyone, especially the boys, to misinterpret messages printed on a valentine. That applied to those chalky candy conversation hearts also. There would be no “Be mine” or “True love” for boys I found disgusting. And, no, I did not gift an entire box of those hearts to anyone. I came from a poor farm family. Several candy hearts tucked inside an envelope or a single stick of Juicy Fruit gum taped to a card was the treat limit.

Stencils and colored paper for crafting cards. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Those sweet memories of Valentine’s days past remain. But now I’m making new memories. With my grandchildren. On a recent Saturday morning I baked carrot cupcakes, mixed up a batch of cream cheese frosting, gathered construction paper, stencils and foam hearts, and checked valentine-themed books out from the library. Randy and I were headed to see the grandkids and I had projects planned.

Isaac in non-stop motion racing his truck. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

But first we played, the kids racing over-sized vehicles across the floor, round and round the table and through the house with the expectation that Grandma would do the same and I did for awhile with a toy airplane, which conveniently took flight. But then I needed a break. A break meant decorating those healthy cupcakes I baked, the healthy being the 1 ½ cups of shredded carrots (never mind the cup of sugar in the batter and then an additional cup in the homemade frosting).

Isaac with one of the cupcakes he frosted and sprinkled. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Heart-shaped toppings for the cupcakes from my daughter’s stash. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
The cupcake in the center is minus about half the sugar Isaac dumped onto it. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Wiping crumbs and frosting from Isaac’s face. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Frosting and decorating cupcakes hold universal appeal for kids. Grandpa and I tag teamed with him assigned to 3-year-old Isaac and me to 5-year-old Isabelle. All went seemingly well with the usual admonition not to lick the knife, then wash the knife and repeat. But then I handed a slim bottle of sparkly pink sugar to Isaac, who tipped the bottle, and, well, you can guess what happened. He dumped enough sugar atop that single cupcake to decorate a dozen. What could we do except laugh, dump most of the sugar off and continue on. Eventually the cupcakes were all decorated and one each eaten.

We played with Owlette and Catboy from the Disney Junior show “PJ Masks.” I had no clue who these characters were prior to playtime. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

We took a break for more play, this time climbing up Mystery Mountain (stairs) to the Splat Volcano (Isaac’s room), where I got my feet stuck in splat, not to be confused with lava. The kids pulled me free. Good thing because there were valentines to craft. Except we never got to the valentines. I thought it more important for the siblings to create birthday cards for their mom, whose birthday is shortly before Valentine’s Day.

I brought a bag plumped with foam heart stickers for the grandkids to use in creating cards. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Again, I supervised Izzy while Randy helped Isaac. I got the easy job as Isabelle is a kindergartner, meaning she can sit quietly and create, managing a pencil and markers and stencils just fine, thank you. She finished her mom’s birthday card long before her brother. Isaac was quite taken with the foam heart stickers I brought. Hearts in hues of pink and purple. He’d stick one on the orange construction paper folded into a card and then stick on another. And another. And another. No valentines were ever made. But if foam hearts can convey love, then my daughter Amber ought to know her son loves her lots.

Stickers galore decorate the birthday card Isaac made for his mom. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

So these are my latest Valentine’s Day memories. Not of candy conversation hearts or heart-covered shoeboxes or fixating on valentine choices, but rather memories of time with my beloved grandchildren. Such sweetness in those love-filled moments…


TELL ME: I’d like to hear your Valentine’s Day stories, past and/or present.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


10 Responses to “Valentine’s Day: Of conversation hearts, sparkly sugar & a whole lot of love”

  1. kathleentara Says:

    Such fun with the grandkids! (Isaac looks just like Caleb to me in the cupcake photo!).

    Ahhh…. Valentine’s Days of my/our youth! My memories are very similar to yours, only at my rural tiny school, in my class of 12 … we had no boys! So there was no angst about sending any “wrong” messages to them from me – ha!ha!

    I, too, made the shoebox Valentine receptacle. What an anticipated treat it was to construct it each year with red and pink construction paper, white paper doilies, crinkled crepe paper, paste (not glue) and glitter. It felt magical! These were special art materials brought out only for this annual February project.

    I adore “old” valentines and have a cherished collection of them – ones I’ve found over the years at thrift stores and antique shops. I love the colorful graphics and am particularly enchanted by the kitschy word play used to convey their swoony sentiments! One of my favorites I found the year when Justin and I were married. It is a darling 3-D valentine of a courtroom. The juror’s section “pops up” and the words read, “The verdict is in … you are my Valentine”! ❤️

    Several years ago I splurged and bought (on eBay) an original Valentine “booklet” from the early 1960’s – completely intact. I love thumbing through it as it brings back the very memories you write about in your post today. It takes all of my restraint to not do with it as I would have done as a child — get my scissors and paste (yes, paste, not glue).

    The booklet is pages of valentines and “envelopes” – remember how we had to cut them out so carefully, then fold and glue the sides together? The valentines themselves would also need to be scissored out, with many of them having little slots or openings where paper (also to be cut out) flowers, hearts and the like could be inserted – all of which are in the booklet. Pages and pages of valentine delight! It does challenge every ounce of my restraint! So far, so good!

    Happy Valentine’s Day my friend! Thanks for the memories!❤️

    • Kathleen, thank you for sharing your Valentine’s Day memories, which nearly replicate mine (except for the no boys). I can envision that valentine booklet, remembering it as you describe. Keep your scissors and paste in the drawer and thumb through that book every February 14. What a treasure!

      And, yes, the verdict is in. You and Justin are the perfect valentines for one another. Happy happy Valentine’s Day to both of you across the miles from southern Minnesota to Idaho! I love you, my friend!

  2. Ha! – love it – really going for that pink sugar with gusto! It is the moments that are precious and the memories that we cherish with our loved ones that matter 🙂 Happy Valentine’s Day – Enjoy

  3. Valerie Says:

    Sounds like a fun day!
    I, too, remember decorating the shoe box in anticipation for the valentine’s…such a fun memory. Thanks for bringing it to mind.

  4. We don’t do a lot for Valentines Day. Hubby buys me a bear every year and I usually knit him a new hat and buy him a card. My memories of school valentines were similar but my sister and I had cards in a box. My kids used prepackaged treats with the cards already attached. They wanted to give what everyone else was giving.

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