Valentine from the heart
Editor's note: Jennifer Latzke is on assignment this week. The following column was first published Jan. 27, 2004, in High Plains Journal.
The first man to give me a valentine wasn't some elementary school crush or high school sweetheart. He was my grandpa.
And, it wasn't some flashy card, just a simple box of Russell Stover chocolates. But, you would have thought I was the queen of his heart the way I carried on.
He would hate to be called sentimental, but Grandpa was just that. He remembered the little things, and Valentine's Day was just one more in a long list.
For example, when my sister Joni was little, she used to climb up on his lap and beg for the Wild Cherry Lifesavers he used to help him quit smoking. Years later, she lived with our grandparents for a summer during college so she could work in town, and there was always a roll of Wild Cherry Lifesavers by his recliner just for her.
When his grandsons each caught their first fish, he took enough pictures to make flip-books of the occasion. And he often saved me from Grandma's wrath by sneaking my tomatoes onto his plate when she wasn't looking so I wouldn't have to eat them. A sheer act of bravery in my eyes.
Grandpa and I shared more than the Clark nose. We each had an ornery sense of humor. He taught me my first joke and showed me the art of storytelling. We celebrated our birthdays within days of each other and he used to tease me that I was his greatest present, every year. And, I knew that if I needed to win an argument with Mom, he was there to defend me.
I always felt comforted by the smell of his Old Spice cologne and the sound of his booming chuckle-a laugh I hear traces of in my own. He understood and never ridiculed me when I had wild dreams of becoming rich and famous. And, he pushed me to achieve whatever I set out to do. He was the first to tell me I had done well, and the first to tell me when I needed to buck up and do better. He was at every cattle show, every 4-H activity, every school play and music recital. Even during his difficult final days, when he was most ill and trying to hide it from all of us, there he was at my graduation cracking jokes and posing for pictures.
He never forgot my Grandma's birthday, their anniversary or any other important date. After more than 50 years of marriage, he was continually amazed that she'd graced him by saying 'yes'. By watching them, I saw how love grows and changes when two people, who are complete opposites, work at a marriage. Grandma was happiest cleaning house or quilting, while Grandpa loved his morning coffee with his buddies at the local Hardee's. Grandma was a stickler for the rules, but Grandpa would bend them if it was called for. The one thing they agreed on, though, was that they were partners in everything life threw their way. We should all be so blessed to find that kind of love.
There was so much about Grandpa that I took for granted. I miss those little things he'd do to show his affection, whether it was teasing Grandma out of a smile, giving farming advice to my dad on a trip out to our farm, or cranking out a batch of homemade ice cream for my birthday.
Most of all, I miss that simple little heart-shaped box of chocolates.
Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached by phone at 620-227-1807, or by e-mail at email@example.com.