Valentine’s Day starts us thinking about romantic gestures–gestures to make, gestures we might receive. So I find it a little interesting that Emilie Loring’s books say nothing at all about Valentine’s Day. In fact, she mentions very few holidays or traditional celebrations. We know how she might have observed Thanksgiving and Christmas, but she leaves us guessing about the rest.
I looked in the Boston Daily Globe for popular Valentine’s Day customs in the 1920s through 40s, and I had to smile at each year’s discussion of the history of Valentine’s Day. Count on educated Boston to provide historical context!
The short story was that two ancient observances, Februus and Lupurcalia, became our Groundhog Day and Valentine’s Day. Februus was considered the turning point of winter, celebrated with an abundance of burning candles, and Lupurcalia was when animals began to mate again–a first, hopeful sign of spring. Now, a groundhog tells us if spring is on its way, and Valentine’s Day brings us out of our winter doldrums to think–and express–hopeful, romantic thoughts.
Emilie Loring’s men said it with flowers, definitely. When it came to romance, it was all roses and violets.
“Good luck. Thanks for wearing my violets,” he said stiffly and glided away.
Brian’s violets! She had thought Jim sent them! Gay looked at the fragrant purple blossoms against her shoulder. He had remembered that she wore them when she skated. He had remembered also that she loved red roses.
Today Is Yours
Violets were favorites in Boston, especially in a heart-shaped box from The Florist on Tremont Street: “The gay, heart-shaped box of violets created by Henry Penn more than 25 years ago has been one of the most popular Valentines throughout the years.” (1941) It stymies me that violets aren’t more available now. Maybe I can grow a nice patch of them and make my own violet Valentine box.
After nearly fifty years in business, that same florist, Henry Penn, wrote a book, 101 Ways to Win a Woman, and you won’t be surprised to learn that it had a lot to do with flowers.
“To get the most out of flowers you must understand the psychology of sending them… Either they should drop right down from the clouds when the recipient least expects them, or the flowers themselves should be different.” 101 Ways to Win a Woman
I love the little envelope that comes with flowers and the tiny note inside. There’s always a little air of mystery. Who’s it from? What will it say?
Gay opened the box and lifted out a mass of crimson roses which flooded the room with fragrance.
“My word, how gorgeous, Gay! Two dozen! Look at the length of the stems! I’ve heard that red vibrates. Now I know it. Each one of the roses is broadcasting a message. ‘Better Times,’ their name is. Pretty subtle I calls it.” She laughed and hummed:
“Somebody loves me, I wonder who?”
Today Is Yours
Chocolates are reliable romantic gestures, whether it’s a single chocolate or a whole box. I don’t know if it’s longtime association, the mystery of what each might taste like, or just that they are such tasty treats, but I’m like Cindy Clinton:
“Chocolates!” She ripped off the paper cover. “What a gorgeous box! Wonderful! I haven’t had one from this super, super shop for years. You’ve come across in a big way. Must be five pounds. Have one.”
He shook his head.
“I believe you are more pleased with the candy than with the pearls,” he declared incredulously.
She laughed, as after careful inspection of the delectable assortment she selected a chocolate, and looked up at him from under the sweep of long lashes. “A huge box of candy has a romantic appeal. Silly, isn’t it? Besides, you thought of this yourself. You didn’t ask anyone to do it for you. That’s one reason I love it.”
To Love and To Honor
There’s also the element of luxury. One could argue that the most romantic gift is something you need rather than something you don’t, but I know I get a greater thrill from a box of chocolates than I would, say, a head of broccoli or a jar of vitamins. Penn advised a young man on a budget, “Just this once, be extravagant.”
“Mr. Michael wants you to wear these. They were his mother’s.” Sonia looked through a haze at the lustrous pearls lying on the satin bed of the case… We Ride the Gale!
“Christopher Bradford,” Beth said breathlessly, “you’ve given me a yellow diamond. The man said so.” My Dearest Love
Of course, almost anything can be romantic, as long as the meaning is clear.
I was leaning down arranging the eggs to form the word Welcome…
As Long As I Live
Emilie Loring’s books are filled with small, romantic gestures and unplanned, romantic moments. I’ve always loved this photo of her brother and his fiancée, holding hands, laughing and happy. That is a lot of what romance is about–the little moments of unplanned closeness.
He spread her slender fingers on his palm, looked down at them, then up at her. His expression set the pulses in her throat to beating furiously.
“No, Jim. No!”
His low laugh was as disturbing as his eyes.
“I won’t, Julie–now. The sudden ascent from despair has gone to my head–that’s all. He crushed the hand he held and turned away.
When two hours later… Julie curled up in the wing-chair in the living room at Brick House, his words came back to her with a distinctness which set her heart to beating suffocatingly. She had had the sense of being crushed in his arms though he had held only her hand. she had rescued that just in time.
Here Comes the Sun!
In fact, for romantic books, Emilie Loring’s have few actual “dates” of the kind where they make a plan ahead of time, he picks her up, and they do something “date-like”–go to dinner, see a movie, attend a concert. There is a picnic in As Long As I Live:
We’ll start in the early afternoon, take a picnic supper and watch the sun set. It’s a great sight.”
And Bruce Harcourt takes Janice on an Alaskan day-trip:
“Care to go air-trotting, Miss Trent?
Fly! Janice throttled her imagination, attested fervently:
“I’d love it.”
“Then it’s a date. Be sure you’re ready on time. The plane starts the minute the sun pokes its rim above the horizon, passengers or no passengers.” Lighted Windows
But the best date, I think, is in Fair Tomorrow, and it’s worth waiting for. Pamela Leigh spends money intended for needed kitchen equipment for a new hair-do and outfit, so that she can appear her best when she meets Scott Mallory for an evening in Boston.
Mallory wheeled. Regarded her incredulously. “What have you done to yourself? You look taller.”
“High heels. Don’t you like me taller?” She threw just the right amount of wistfulness into voice and eyes. Truly the descent to Avernus was as swift as it purported to be–and more heady.
Scott Mallory laughed. “Changed your line with your clothes, haven’t you. Come.”
… Mallory’s eyes glowed like black coals as he took the seat opposite Pamela at a small table… Not too wide for low voices to carry across nor hands to touch. Not too near the music. Not too deeply shaded by a synthetic palm… Violets–a fragrant bunch with a gardenia heart. Candles, pink-shaded. Silver. Crystal. Roseate seclusion. A table in a thousand…
From luncheon to a super-talkie, on to a portrait show. Conversation, real conversation about things which mattered. They two seemed never to lack interesting subjects for discussion. Long silences. Laughter… Dinner and dancing.
She had never danced with him before. She had a sense of security as his arm went around her with disturbing possessiveness. The music was throbby, muted. The leader sang softly: “Should I reveal exactly how I feel, should I confess I love you–” Scott Mallory’s arm tightened…
“Happy? he whispered.
She lifted her face. “Top of the world!”
Spring has arrived already on the west coast, and it will shine in at all of our windows before too long. Let’s enjoy the coming warmth and be inspired as Emilie Loring was. Here is her dedication to Here Comes the Sun!
“The sense of the world is short, –
Long and various the report,-
To love and be beloved;
Men and gods have not outlearned it;
And, how oft soe’er they’ve turned it,
‘Tis not to be improved.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Happy Valentine’s Day, Everyone!
(and you especially, Pat!)