With his tongue hanging out of his mouth and an intense squint of his eyes, he carefully cut the pink construction paper.
His fingers were big and holding a pair of scissors in such a precarious position was beyond the definition of clumsy.
Dad breathed deeply as he tried to create an awkward heart.
“I don’t know how you guys do this,” he said to his young brood as we sat around the table.
“Seriously. I need another beer.”
As he retrieved a second Schlitz, I grabbed his pink heart and with my little scissors tried to better round his edges.
He moaned as he bent his long, lanky body to again sit at the table, complaining about his knees. As Dad popped open a cold one, I showed him that his pink heart really wasn’t that bad.
“Oh, it’s not,” he said, laughing. “Maybe it’s the beer, but it looks better now than it did a minute ago.”
It was a rare occasion that my father would sit down with us kids, at the end of a long day, and help with an art project. But for some reason, he loved Valentine’s Day.
Well, actually, he really just loved my mother.
Not every year (because of the perils of winter weather) did my Dad help us make Valentines for the mama. But when he could, he was excited to do so . . . as were we.
We’d make sure to get colored construction paper, glue and the all important lace doilies from the Ben Franklin store prior to the February holiday.
Dad said that no matter how bad our stuff looked, the doilies always made them look better.
Mom would retreat to their bedroom during the hour-long process – so she could be surprised the next day with our creations.
That left us alone with our father, who was more comfortable holding a deer rifle than a bottle of Elmer’s. This man could trim a giant Holstein bull for the show ring, but edging a paper heart with ribbon was like performing brain surgery.
Coaxing gallons of milk out of an udder was second nature, yet neatly squirting a tiny bit of glue on a doily was completely beyond his realm of ability.
But you got to hand it to the guy – this was a labor of love.
The littlest ones would simply scribble with crayons on a piece of paper – then our patriarch would cut off the white space and slap it on an all-saving doily.
Dad’s handwriting was horrific – it was mostly tiny little chicken scratches that only my mother could decipher. Seeing how she was the recipient – the penmanship was appropriate.
For the little ones, he’d scratch out hieroglyphics that said Happy Valentine’s Day and their names. My father could remember the spelling of every cattle feed protein or species of wild game – but remembering every letter of our names would escape him.
It could have been because there was so many of us . . . or maybe it was just the result of many hours of work followed by an equal number of Schlitz cans.
It didn’t matter. I’d fix the spelling when he was helping my brothers color their hideous messes (which indicated they were just as gifted as he was at “abstract art”).
And we’d laugh. I think that was the best part – having Dad’s undivided attention in an unconventional setting.
When all was said and done, we’d scrape the wayward glue off the kitchen table (some of it remained there for years), try to scrub the magic marker off the linoleum and pry apart doilies that had become inadvertently stuck together.
Dad would throw away his beer cans, we’d take the littlest ones to bed and then get a quick look at our masterpieces before the lights went out.
The next morning, over cereal, my mother would kiss each of us and thank us for the beautiful Valentines we had created for her.
“Homemade everything is always better because it comes from the heart,” she’d say, tearing up over each and every piece. “What a wonderful Valentine’s Day.”
Decades later, I ran across a box. It was labeled with my mother’s handwriting – “Love letters.” It was with great intrigue that I gently opened it to peer inside.
My eyes feasted on beautiful store-purchased cards with glitter and the most beautiful prose – from a man who loved a woman beyond imagination.
I sighed with warm fuzzies as I saw each was signed by my father.
As I sifted through the years of extravagant written tenderness, I spied a manila envelope at the bottom of the box. My mother had written on the envelope “The best of the best.”
I gingerly bent the metal fasteners so I could see the contents.
And there they were.
Hand-made, ugly Valentines that had been created on those marvelous nights he spent with his kids. Paint splatter and glue chunks on thick doily pedestals – they were incredible.
They were all signed by Dad – just signatures.
It read: “I thought since I was helping the kids I’d make you one too. So, I’ll love you forever OK? Love, Mel.”
I agree with her – that was the best of the best.
He may have not been a man of elaborate words or exceptional art skills – but he did really love her.
Homemade everything is always better – including anything on Valentine’s Day. Anything that comes from the heart is cherished forever.