A Valentine’s Reverie and the value of it all

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Friday, February 14, 2020. It was cold and rainy yesterday in New York. All of that ended by mid-evening when the temperature dropped. 

Today is Valentine’s Day. It has resonated with me all my life as a good day. I came upon a quote on a financial web site I read frequently for insight, and being Valentine’s I was impressed:

“I feel that the dormant goodwill in people needs to be stirred. People need to hear that it makes sense to behave decently or to help others, to place common interests above their own, to  respect the elementary rules of human coexistence.  — Vaclav Havel

DPC and Ann, age 11, dancing at a YMCA Holiday Hop .

A Ride Down Valentine’s Lane. I was first aware of Valentine’s Day when I was in first grade (6 years old). I was intrigued because someone (the teacher?) had taken a carton and covered it with paper (mainly red patterns) and made a box for Valentine’s cards. Everyone in the class, it seemed, had Valentine’s cards for many others. I joined in and I did address many.

But there was one particular card that was addressed to a girl named Ann Colton. I had noticed her on the first day of school (first grade). She sat across the aisle from me and I was in (six year old) love with her. Blonde hair, blue eyes; I didn’t know at the time that was the look that always appealed. I didn’t assume she knew any of that but I was (subtly) intensely interested; smitten as only a child can be. 

A six year old has no interests outside of the pleasure of the sight. From that, all passion is descended. Anyway, Ann and I saw each other again at Mr. Ryder’s Ballroom Dancing School on Saturday afternoons at the First Congregational Church meeting room where the boys sat on one side and the girls on the other. Until Mr. Ryder snapped or clacked his signal. Then the boys jumped up and ran across the room to pick out the girl he wanted to dance with. The formation of the boys crossing was like a giant V — as a good quarter to a third of them were going after Ann Colton. I knew what to expect and I ran fast. I won. I ran faster (you didn’t actually run).  

From there we grew into our teens and life began to change for everyone. After grade school, Ann went off to a private school in Springfield, called MacDuffie. And the boys interested in her were local prep school boys (definitely, to the girls, a cut above to us commoners). We remained friends, however – distantly mainly – but she was becoming sophisticated and out in the world. And I was becoming a teenager in love. All my imagination of course, but teenagers have a right to their imaginations.

Ann’s graduation photo from MacDuffie (high school) in 1959.

Life moved on and by the time we were college age, we moved on with it. Ann went to Smith (not a surprise, she was always an excellent student) and I went to Colby. I saw her a couple of times during those college years. Our bond was laughter at what we saw in our own behavior back then. Then she got married. And then I got married. We had been completely out of touch thereafter.

Thirty years later, I came home on a Sunday night with a voicemail from Ann. She’d somehow come upon a Quest magazine where I had a column. She looked up my name in Information and called to see if I were the same David Columbia she grew up with. 

When I came home that night and heard the message, I was thrilled!!  I called her and soon after we resumed our friendship. As it was with me, her life had changed dramatically; a first marriage, children, divorce; a second marriage (a happy one) and she lived part of the time now with her new husband in Manhattan.

As a grownup and now in my 50s and 60s, we had the time to talk about ourselves in relationship to each other at that time in our lives. It was all pleasure. I confessed how disappointed I was in her lack of interest. She countered that it wasn’t lack of interest (I just didn’t get it). However, the pleasure of our history from childhood dominated our conversations and sense of our worlds now. 

Ann died several years ago, a victim of lung cancer. I had seen her at the time of her diagnosis but she never mentioned it and so I didn’t know. Someone who was close to her told me that on her final days, in hospital, she was content, accepting, and grateful. I can believe it. That was the Ann the six year old David admired. My original Valentine. Always and forever.

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