Remember those valentines we used to get in school?

The teacher would help make a mailbox for each student. Sometimes it was half a paper plate stitched, glued or taped to the facing side of a whole plate, creating a slot into which the valentines were placed.

Sometimes it was a brown paper lunch sack upon which we drew pictures of hearts and flowers. And sometimes it was an empty shoe box which we decorated, cutting a hole in the lid for classmates to drop in the cards.

Everyone went to the dime store or another shop where class-size packages of valentines were sold. Then we carefully looked through the assorted cards to make sure that we didn’t give the girl we liked one that was intended for the teacher.

After putting a name on each of the little envelopes and a card inside, we carried them to school on Feb. 14. At the appointed time we went down the row of previously made mailboxes and matched cards with the names on the boxes and dropped them in.

Part of the fun was to read over each valentine after we got home to see what the cute girl on the third row said on her card and to chuckle over what our best friend said to us.

As important as those cards were – for a day or two at least – during elementary school, they soon became part of the stuff with which we could part. At some point when our moms told us to clean up things and throw away what we would never use again, the valentines found their way into the trash and out of our memories.

Did any of us keep the valentines from school? Or valentines from any time for that matter?

I know I didn’t. Except for one. And it was the most special valentine of all.

My wife and I got engaged soon after we started dating – the third weekend to be precise. And we got engaged on Valentine’s Day.

If we stop there, it sounds quite romantic. Ahh, love at first sight and a proposal on the most love-filled day of the year. But I was (and still am) anything but romantic in the way I deal with matters of the heart. It’s not that I don’t care or don’t want to impress in that way, I just don’t know how.

My idea of a marriage proposal came out as, “I want to marry you sometime.” It was in the middle of a Godzilla movie on late night TV at my parents’ house the weekend I took Mary Lou home to meet them. That it happened to be on Valentine’s Day was merely a coincidence.

When the sun rose that morning and we got ready to go to church, the woman to whom I had just become engaged walked over to me in the living room. In her hand was a large envelope. She reached out and handed it to me.

The card inside had a drawing of an obviously 1970’s young woman (short dress, purple tights, orange shoes) and the words, “Valentine – I really gotta hand it to you!”

The inside of the valentine read, “… cause I’m too shy to say it!!!” And there was that same young woman. Her visage had changed, however. Her eyes were closed, she was blushing slightly and she was holding out a small card with a heart on it and the words, “I love you!!”

Yes, this was the same day that we had agreed to marry. But prior to that day we had never used the “L” word. We were smitten with one another, but in the brief time we had known one another, that word had not been uttered.

Now, there it was in my hands written in a valentine that she had gotten prior to our weekend in Aiken. I was touched and still am. It is now 42 years later, and I still have that card. Of all the cards that I was given before and all that I have received since, none compares to that simple card with the wide-eyed young lady.

In a mere 18 words (I didn’t mention the “Happy Valentine’s Day” at the bottom of the inside message) she said all that I would need to know about her feelings toward me – then and now.

I had been told that I would know when the real one came along. On Feb. 14, 1971, I knew.

Happy Valentine’s Day to my one and only.

Jeff Wallace is the retired editor of the Aiken Standard.