The build-up to Valentine’s Day is stressful. I’m so happy it’s over. You would think after near forty years with my bride I’d get it right…. I’d rather be the first victim in a slasher movie. At least it’s over for another year…maybe I’ll die before it comes around again.
I don’t do well with picking “meaningful” gifts or planning “meaningful” events. Don’t do well? And the Grand Canyon is a big hole in Arizona. I’m better at spontaneity, flying by the seat of my pants, spur of the moment. Who am I foolin’? Damn, I’ve got an anniversary bearing down on me in late June.
My bride doesn’t like traditional Valentine’s Day gifts…you know…roses or chocolate. Stress! I mean she likes roses, but she’d rather have a bare-root rose to plant in the spring…you know the gift that keeps on giving…season after season. I did that one year. It died.
Chocolate would be fine if we celebrated at an intimate little Belgium chocolate shop we once discovered in Charleston…the owner, a Belgian Jew whose family fled to the United States as Nazi tanks began rolling toward France, died a while back. How dare she. The son who took over was…was…delicate and high strung, prone to fainting. He couldn’t take the pressure of making handmade chocolate delights. He sold out and for some reason, it’s just not the same. It’s like the shop died too.
One of the first Valentine’s Days we celebrated after moving to the foothills of the Blue Ridge, I found a nearby inn offering a romantic dinner for two on Valentine’s Day. I jumped on it…it snowed.
The owner called us saying, “They say the roads are cleared. We’re open but have no power. We’ll be preparing your meal over an open fire if you can get here.” We’ll get there. They lied!
“Have four-wheel drive, will travel” which explains why we opted to take the Thunderbird instead of the old Landcruiser. The Landcruiser just wasn’t sexy enough for Valentine’s Day. “Fools rush in….” Up the Saluda Grade for twelve or so miles. Everything was fine until we hit the North Carolina line. Snowplows? Even South Carolina has heard of them.
It was a drive through the mountains that reminded me of the scenes from the movie “Battle of the Bulge.” The road looked like it had been bombed. Trees and powerlines down, six inches of snow on the ground with a heavy fog rising as it melted. Instead of Nazis directing mortar fire on us, power crews in yellow helmets directed us around obstructions. No artillery shells exploded, just transformers lighting up the approaching darkness. We made it. How are we getting home? I’m sure the inn is full…it was.
Saluda, North Carolina is a rustic little village filled with memories of past days when it was a stop for the railroad. The inn, built to serve the railroad elite, was located on the far side of town and welcomed us with hurricane lamps that gave the old structure a turn of the Twentieth Century feel.
Oil lamps provided a warm glow with a hint of kerosene wafting through the air. An intimate table for two covered in red and white checkerboard. A flickering candle in the center of the table caused shadows to dapple around us as if bathed in soft moonlight.
There was a view of snow-covered mountains as we sat next to an open fireplace that could have burned a giant Sequoia tree. Everything was warm and cheery…and of course, romantic. None of the waitresses called anyone honey or sweetheart. The offer was of a young red wine, not sweet Southern tea.
The bill of fare included mushrooms stuffed with duck liver pâté, Caesar salad, a healthy cut of filet mignon sided with asparagus and roasted potatoes…can you believe I can remember a dinner from over thirty years ago?
A chocolate cheesecake topped with a cherry sauce finished the meal…a decadent, triple-digit priced meal…worth every penny…to me…but not to my bride which is the only reason I had come here anyway. She enjoyed the meal when she ate it, later…not so much.
We decided to take the long way home by interstate…the interstate had to be clear. The wide four lanes had to be safer than the two-lane we had traveled up. We found it clear of snow. We also found it shrouded in a heavy fog rising from the asphalt as thick as (insert your own cliché here).
Worse still, my bride was sick.
“Honey, you need to pull over,” she said weakly. She looked a bit green in the light cast by passing headlights.
Said with emphasis, “YOU NEED TO PULL OVER! I’M GOING TO THROW UP!”
Slowing and easing to the side of the road, “STOP THE DAMN CAR WILL YOU!” Okay, not fast enough.
I watched in horror as half of a triple-digit meal landed on the pavement with the force of a high-pressure hose. Think Linda Blair in “The Exorcist.”
Once I helped her into the car, I pointed out, “The pâté….” I shouldn’t have brought up food.
“It had to be the pâté.”
“Oh, just shut up and get me home! NO WAIT. STOP THE CAR…NOWWWWW!”
So much for the after-dinner festivities.
I’m only sharing because it exemplifies the horror that is Valentine’s Day…and it is more subtly humorous in retrospect than at the time. The ‘meal from hell’ is not the exception; it is the rule. So bad are my Valentine’s Day memories, I’ve blocked most of them, locking them away somewhere in my head and throwing away the key.
What can you expect from a celebration of love named for the patron saint of epilepsy? A man beaten, clubbed and beheaded for trying to convert prisoners into Christians. Nothing says “Be my Valentine” like a bloody, headless corpse.
I thought long and hard about this Valentine’s Day…just like every other one. It’s been a rough month in a rough year. I needed inspiration and I got it. Right on a social media page as if it had read my mind.
A handmade (chortle) necklace…a cheap, fake silver locket in the shape of a sunflower on a cheap, fake silver chain. The sunflower splits apart to expose an engraved message, “You are my sunshine.” It’s beautiful. Perfect. She is my sunshine. Sentiment over substance.
And it was…perfect, so far…but she hasn’t eaten my shrimp and grits yet so there’s room for disaster yet.
The image is from Horror Fuel http://horrorfuel.com/2017/02/13/love-horror-12-horror-films-watch-valentines-day/
Don Miller writes on various subjects, some fictional, some nonfictional, some at the same time…both. His author’s page may be accessed https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM