Pat McDermott isn’t a fan of February’s melting heat, but has fond memories of February 14’s magical ability to melt hearts.
fond reflections of Valentine’s Day
It was early February when I first arrived in Australia, more than 40 years ago. I flew from winter in Canada to summer in Brisbane. “Here we are folks,” announced the pilot. “Welcome to Brisbane. Out of the freezer, into the frying pan!”
The airport, then called Eagle Farm, didn’t have air-conditioning. Sweat trickled between my shoulder blades and down my back. I decided it was safe to take off my woolly scarf. When another drip ran straight down my nose, I pulled off the heavy coat with the fleecy lining my mother made me bring.
Still uncomfortably warm I finally raced to the women’s toilets and took off everything else I decently could. Fortunately the NYMOTH (Not Yet Man of the House) drove up soon after.
“Air conditioned?” I gasped as he proudly opened the door of his pre-loved HD Holden.
“Absolutely!” he grinned. “Hop in. Open your window and I’ll open mine. Then I’ll drive really, really fast!”
I don’t blame beautiful Queensland for being hot. I blame February. Wherever you are in the world, February is a hard month to love. It’s cold in Canada, hot in Australia and wet everywhere else. On the upside, at least it’s short.
Settling into Australia, I was immediately impressed by the way people on the evening news talked calmly despite flies walking about on their faces. After all these years, I still don’t have the hang of it. I flap and swat and ‘carry on like a pork chop’, to use a sister-in-law’s curious phrase.
In Canada, in February, you walk to school fast. The snow is still thick on the ground but you can tell it’s starting to lose the battle to stay ‘deep and crisp and even’. The long walk to school was made more interesting by occasionally slipping and falling or when a boy who liked you a lot put snow down your back as a token of his affection.
The only thing that made February bearable was Valentine’s Day.
Miss McGillvray, who taught Year Two, had glossy black hair worn in a tight bun, which she stuck a 6B lead pencil into at a rakish angle. She looked like a cranky geisha but she absolutely loved Valentine’s Day.
She set out ‘construction’ paper, safety scissors, bowls of thick white school paste, crayons, paper doilies for frills, and coloured paper for hearts, flowers and small stars to stick on at the end, glitter not having been invented yet. When we finished our cards we pinned them up to dry on a makeshift clothesline in the classroom.
The older girls had theories about why
Miss McGillvray loved Valentine’s Day.
They whispered about a broken heart, a romance with a tall, dark stranger who left without saying goodbye.
“You mean Pete the maintenance guy?” the boys jeered.
Some thought she was tired of February like the rest of us and wanted to brighten our days.
The next step was hiding them in friends’ schoolbags or desks.
Your popularity for the rest of the year and, probably, the rest of your life, depended on how many Valentine’s Day cards you found in your desk or school bag.
The usual people got lots but even the kids with permanently runny noses, unpredictable mood swings, chewed nails and, in my case, messy ringlets, got heaps. It took me a while to realise it was Miss McGillvray who made that happen.
This February I thought I might make a Valentine’s Day card for the MOTH.
It will be in recognition of our 45 years of marriage, five kids and too many cats, dogs and refrigerators to count. I’ll write “We’ve graduated from parties where the children played ‘pass the parcel’ to the ones where they drink your really good wine. What a milestone!”
PS: Thanks for picking me up at the airport.
February is a hard month to love.