Valentine’s Day was Friday. If you’re looking for ideas for that perfect gift for your sweetheart, you’re too late.
What you want now is not inspiration, but damage control.
I offer neither.
I’m more forgetful than I care to admit, but I TCOB (take care of business) on Valentine’s Day. Birthdays, anniversaries, even Christmases have been known to sneak up on me. But Valentine’s Day, I begin plotting months in advance.
I’m not sure why. As a kid, all I cared about was those little candy hearts with pithy sayings on them, like “BE MINE” or “KISS ME” or “SO FINE.” I didn’t care what they said, I just ate them.
When I started dating, Mom told me to drive safely, keep my hands on the wheel and not flash my money. But she offered no advice for V’Day.
I have no specific memories of exchanging romantic gifts with a girlfriend on Valentine’s Day. Maybe they had always dumped me by then because I forgot Christmas. That far back, who remembers? Not me, and not them (I hope).
It was only when I found the current girlfriend (of the past 32-plus years) that I began to get Valentine’s Day right.
But I’m pretty sure it was Little Earl who clinched it for me.
Little Earl was anything but. He was a big bear of a man with a shock of gray hair, a brushy, gray moustache and eyes that nearly squinted shut when he grinned, which was most of the time.
At my former newspaper, we’d start seeing him as Christmas approached – at the latest – and we’d see him at least five times over the course of several weeks. The ladies in the ad department would have hated him if he hadn’t been so much fun.
Every year on Valentine’s Day, he ran a quarter-page ad proclaiming his love for Evelyn, his wife.
Sometimes it would be a drawing. One year, it was smoke signals with a word on each puff: Little – Earl – Loves – Evelyn.
Sometimes he would pick the brains of our ad designers, look for “clip art” back when we had huge books of it, or browse online when we went digital. Sometimes he knew exactly what he wanted, and some years you could tell he was looking for an idea.
Usually while he was in, he’d drop by my desk for a visit – but it was never just a routine visit.
Earl could sit across from you in a place of business and look straight into your soul. It was disconcerting at first, but after I decided to just go with it, it was refreshing – like getting a visit from an angel who’d just stopped by on his way back to heaven.
Earl was just flat-out good – not uppity about it, just humble, honest, funny … good. He had a way of making you put your day-to-day worries aside and focus on what really matters.
If everyone was like that, we’d never get anything done. But people like that are extremely rare. I’m thankful to have known a few, and aspire to be one, someday.
Earl died in November of 2001, after he’d already designed, placed and paid for his ad for Valentine’s Day 2002. When I called Evelyn, I didn’t even have to tell her why I called.
“He’s already placed the ad, hasn’t he?” she said. I answered that he had. “Run it,” she said.
So we did. That year, his artwork was a photo of a little ceramic angel he’d found – with a big grin, smiling eyes and a brushy moustache. It looked exactly like him. The caption said, of course, “Little Earl loves Evelyn” and no advertising ever made a truer claim.
I suspect he still does, looking down on us all with that twinkle in his eyes, very much at home in heaven.
And I hope he’s proud that, with all my other faults, at least I don’t forget Valentine’s Day.
Bob Buckel is editorial director of the Wise County Messenger.