Valentine’s Day — and memories of courtships in the old veranda

By:  LPJ

Valentine’s Day. Normally associated with romantic love. However, over time, it has evolved into a special occasion for expressing honor, appreciation and affection to loved ones (besides spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend) – i.e., parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, siblings, other family members and friends. Recently, I cut out a big heart out of a bright red folder for a Valentine card for my nine-year-old grandson. I drew a chain of hearts inside the fold and taped a little pouch, so I could insert my Valentine cash gift. I was proud of my artwork; it came out attractive and lovely. Last weekend, I handed the red card stuck to a small shiny red box of See’s candies to my grandson and called the package my pre-Valentine gift. He couldn’t wait, tore the package and card open – that was OK, too. There is nothing premature about a love greeting, I thought.

So, who is Valentine anyway that we celebrate his day with “I Heart You” signs every year?

After a quick research, I found an interesting and intriguing background to celebrating Valentine’s Day. In a capsule – Valentine’s Day was named after a martyred priest of ancient Rome who was named Valentine. During the reign of Roman emperor Claudius II in the third century A.D, a decree was proclaimed banning Roman soldiers from marrying, the purpose of which was to enforce full commitment (from soldiers) to the Emperor and Rome. Some soldiers disobeyed and followed their hearts. One priest by the name of Valentine went against the Emperor’s order and performed the ceremony to couples who asked him to formalize their union. When the Emperor found out, this priest was martyred for his bold dereliction. Historical records report that two Valentines were martyred at different times in that same century.

The Catholic Church later made an official pronouncement making Valentine a patron saint and declared Valentine’s Day, this largely to suppress an old paganistic feast called Lupercalia, really, a drunken revelry involving men and women around February 13 to 15. The idea was to cap the festivities with a religious and sobered up twist.

To this day, Valentine’s Day has been romanticized and significantly espoused and publicized by commercialism. It remains a flag ship of love and romance – and extended further to love of family members and friends.

Here is where I share some thoughts derived from my memory bank for Valentine’s Day. Courtships in the veranda of my old home in the province in the Philippines. When I was growing up and through my teenage years, dating was never allowed for my older sisters who were yet living at home. I don’t think dating was common nor openly accepted at that time in our old-fashioned community. What was socially accepted was for suitors to visit the objects of their admiration in the ladies’ homes. I have many older sisters, all beautiful and smart, I might say, that seeing admirers come up the steps of our veranda on weekends was common site.

When suitors came at the same time – that was always fun. Our veranda, open on three sides and overlooking the scenic Bicol river on the southside, was big enough to accommodate 12 to 15. Whenever there was a big group in the veranda, one could always hear laughter, bantering and even silly, corny but clean jokes, I know, I was there on many of the gatherings. I even joined in the card group games. Visit of one suitor for one maiden was not as fun – for the rest of us, that is. No games were played. The veranda was on the quiet side. Serious conversations were hard to interrupt. And of course, this very young girl was not in the mix.

Then, my turn to be the young lady of the house. My older sisters had either gotten married and moved away or were at the university in another city. No dating for me when I was staying at home in the province. The tradition continued. Courtships for me happened in the veranda. When suitors visited at the same time, I found the conversations more interesting and lighthearted, and even more intellectually stimulating. I guess the suitors were competing for impression of intelligence (or glibness). Papa occasionally joined in the conversations whenever he felt like being nice (or interrogatory) to my suitors. Mama, on the other hand, sometimes stayed on the other side of the veranda, poring over the lesson plan for her classes – and for all I know, listening to our conversation. As I got older, Papa and Mama stayed out of the veranda, just left us alone with little interruptions. But they always volunteered side critiques of the visitors after they left.

Then it was my youngest sister’s turn – the maiden of the house, sought after by many young suitors. I was off to the university in Manila for graduate studies. Mama related to me that when that sister was in high school, boys came to the house to court. Dating was still not allowed then. The boys would climb the veranda stairs, knock on the top step, and ask for the young lady of the house. Mama, often seated at one corner of the veranda, poring as usual over her books and lesson plan, would point to the sampaloc (tamarind) tree. I remember that tall tree so well, stalwart and shady with olive green tiny leaves clustered around twigs jutting from thick branches and with brown long fruit pods hanging from the branches. Massive limbs reached out to the open veranda’s window pane. My youngest sister loved to climb that sampaloc tree from the veranda window, and sat on a sturdy branch, reached for the pods, cracked them open for the ripe sour fruit. Mama would respond to the visitor/s, pointing to the tree – “She’s up there.” I always think that to be peculiarly charming – the suitors conversing with her while she’s precariously perched (fancy free, so to speak) on a fat tree limb by the veranda window. I can’t imagine any other courtship setting more unique and oddly delightful than that – beats the card games my older sisters played with their suitors in the veranda.

I can’t exactly tell you why thoughts of Valentine’s Day surface memories of courtships in the veranda of my old home in the province. And of course, they also bring to mind the sweet and loving greeting cards and gifts my late husband would surprise me with on V Days (honestly, I never feigned surprise though I tried). I’m sure he’d be delighted with the big heart I cut out of a red folder with my scrumptious artistic touch inside the fold, for our dear grandson for Valentine’s Day. “I Heart You” greetings to my children as well – and to other family members and friends.

Remember to bring cheer to someone (or those) you care for on Valentine’s Day.

Linda P. Jacob