Strawberries

If I were a better writer, this would have been written by now. I wouldn’t look at the calendar, realize a month has nearly gone by, and be content writing old news. I value stories enough to want to share them and immortalize them, but am far from that clichéd image of the tired writer plucking words out in the middle of the night or pushing off work and family obligations because, you know, personal writing deadlines are important, too.

Nope. I’m Midwestern: somehow both busy and lazy simultaneously. And every once in awhile I remember, “Oh that’s right. I blog, don’t I?” So I reach back into the mental file for a story. Usually I can disguise it pretty well, make readers believe it happened yesterday, that my fingers pounded it out so fast they bled. But when the story is about Valentine’s Day and the stores are currently selling St. Patrick’s items, such deception isn’t fooling the most blonde among us.

I don’t really like Valentine’s Day. I know I’m in the one category that should: the happily and healthy married. And I do think that love is worth celebrating. But my eye rolling and mumblings of “fake holiday invented by greeting card companies to make money” rival any crotchety man – a la Ron Swanson from Parks & Rec or Luke Danes from Gilmore Girls.

So suffice it to say, we didn’t go out on Valentine’s Day. As I had told a friend the day before: Valentine’s Day is the one day to not go out; go out on a random, quiet Wednesday instead, then you can get the restaurant to yourself. We did celebrate, but minimally. I made John a nice supper; he bought me flowers. We were just finishing our meal, the fake holiday coming to an end for one more year, when John asked, “Do you remember our first Valentine’s?”

It wasn’t meant as a loaded question. He was planning to reference something obscure. But suddenly I did remember our first Valentine’s and looked at him in horror. And then he suddenly remembered, too.

See, we do have a Valentine’s Day tradition. Every year John makes me a plate of chocolate-dipped strawberries. It’s not original, perhaps, but it is something simple we’ve worked hard to cultivate. The strawberries are not a surprise gift. I’ll remind him or even pick up the ingredients myself some years. But we have always made the effort to do it.

This tradition has provided us with many comical memories and sweet moments. It started that first Valentine’s Day, when we were barely a couple and still unsure what the dating rules were. We were in college and had no money for something fancy anyway, even if we had felt comfortable going out together. And we were too young to buy wine or champagne. So John showed up at my dorm door holding a plate of chocolate covered strawberries that he’d personally hand-dipped in the crappy little kitchen in his own dorm. We ate them sitting at my desk in Dahl Hall.

And since then, chocolate covered strawberries are the only part of Valentine’s Day I’ve ever felt attached to. We’ve improved the tradition each time after several valuable lessons: Use actual dipping chocolate, not almond bark or chocolate chips. Don’t even try white chocolate, cause it’s gross. Let them harden on parchment, not a plate, or you’ll need a chisel to get them off.

But this year, we didn’t make strawberries. Somehow both of us had forgotten. John looked out our window, into the darkness, and asked, “Well, what do you want to do about it this late?”

And of course, I said, “Go pick up the ingredients at a store. Walmart, at least, will be open if nothing else. We can salvage this!”

See, I may be a crotchety old man about certain concepts, but when it comes to the personal, I am full sentimental girl. (I mean, c’mon, I do blog…) “John, a tradition isn’t a tradition unless you do it every year!” I said. “It’s not something you did a few times once. If we don’t make them this year, then we’re done. It’s not an actual tradition anymore!”

I’m not sure if he agreed with my extreme reasoning, but he went uptown to get our ingredients anyway. We successfully salvaged our strawberry tradition for another year. And it meant more than the generous bouquet of flowers delivered to my door that morning or the incredible salmon fillets I made for supper. We ate those strawberries, reminisced, and laughed at ourselves.

I certainly saw the humor in the whole thing, but also felt a tinge of guilt. It’s a pretty poor tradition if both of us found it so forgettable. Apparently I am as bad at sentimental details as I am at writing regularly. But we got a good laugh and another story out of the ordeal. And I figure, if you’re gonna forget something important, it may as well be tied to Valentine’s Day. It’s not like we forgot a Christmas tradition. It’s only Valentine’s Day…

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