Golden Heart Tales: by Hank Nuwer


With my sweetheart thousands of miles away at our big house on the Indiana stateline, I had time on my hands this weekend. What better way to spend it than to look up past Valentine’s Day celebrations in the Fairbanks paper?

Combing through the archives, I learned that in 1912, the Young People’s Society of Presbyterian Church played games with hearts and arrows, then broke for lunch.  Another party was held by the local citizenry of Chatanika, AK.

In 1913, elementary school teacher Miss Baker threw a holiday party at her house on Massachusetts street for her little darlings. That same year the fraternal Arctic Brotherhood hired the Durand Orchestra and threw a three-hour dance and bash.

In 1929, far from Fairbanks, four persons unknown (two dressed as policemen or actual policemen) gunned down seven men in a warehouse at Dickens and Clark. Some of the victims were associates of the notorious Bugs Moran. This became known as the Valentine’s Day Massacre.

In 1931, a dance was held in the gym of the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines.

In 1969, the News-Miner went all out in its historical coverage of the holiday. Readers and now I learned that Valentine verses went back to the early 1700s. There also were recipes for romantic Valentine meals at home. Among the desserts were chocolate pudding with whipped cream and ice cream sprinkled with candy red hearts. Make mine vanilla.

One of the real winners on a card was “Roses are red, and violets are blue.”

Naturally, we learned, many young women considered the next verses hackneyed and their swains most uncreative. No worries, in 1791, “The Young Men’s Valentine Writer” appeared in print and even the most dullish swain could impress (until their sweethearts found the book in his stash and he became a dullish swine).

Valentine’s cards were made by hand with lace, elaborate cutouts and loving messages. The paper claimed the first commercial card in the U.S. went back to 1855.

That 1969 newspaper traced Valentine’s to an old pagan pastoral fertility festival called Lupercalia. Historians said that’s why Church of England clergy condemned Valentine celebrations for a time. Of course, we all know that Valentine’s was named after the martyr Valentine.  But who knew there were three martyred St, Valentine’s? The News-Miner, that’s who.

I learned that some sassy lasses who received cards from admirers they did not so admire might send cheeky dismissal ditties to discourage unwanted beaus. “Your chatter is so endless; so silly at its best/That I often go to talkies just to give myself a rest.” Ooh, that must’ve hurt.

I do know when and where I got my first kiss.  I lived in the projects of Buffalo midweek (and on our family farms weekends).  Back then I walked hand-in-hand with a young lass named Linda. One Sunday I came to her home to visit. A truck loaded with possessions was ready to leave. Linda came out and gave me a kiss goodbye.  Her lips tasted like Fleer’s Bubble Gum.

In the age of Byron, poets really laid it on thick. “How delicious is the winning of a kiss at love’s beginning” went one verse’s first line.

So, I’ll end with that. May all of you with partners recall your beloved’s first kiss. But gentle readers, refrain from asking your lover to describe their recollection of that first kiss. Nothing would ruin your mutual Big Day more than one of you saying, “But that wasn’t me!”

Fairbanks from above, courtesy Aaron Woods

I asked my bride Gosia if she remembered our first kiss the time when she came to visit me in America from Poland. We both recalled the same kiss in Chicago.

Whew, that was a close one. A wrong answer might have inspired the second Valentine’s Day massacre.