Tuesday, February 14, 2012

How Hallmark Ruined Valentine's Day

Once upon a time I was a but a wee adolescent gal, and I got a job in a Hallmark Gold Crown store. At the time not all Hallmark stores could boast the title of Gold Crown. I cannot remember what it was that a store had to do, I think it was a certain amount of sales, to achieve this illustrious status, but Sells Candy Store in Bay Village OH achieved it.

I enjoyed working at Sells. It was family owned. They made all their own candies and me and my teenaged metabolism were allowed to eat all the candy we wanted. I mean, they were only paying me $1.80 an hour (1981 dollars) so the candy seemed like a good side benefit. Most days I loved working the candy counter. I loved packaging up the various orders people came in for. I got to know the regulars and their favorite candy. There was the little old lady who loved the chocolate covered sponge candy that could only be made in low humidity weather. There was the man who always wore the dapper hats who loved the turtles - pecans, caramel, and either milk or dark chocolate on top. I had never had a turtle before, and the dark chocolate ones were a revelation.

What was truly a revelation though, the turning point where I recognized that there was a certain taste combination in the world and that no one had ever introduced it to me before that moment bordered on betrayal: Dark chocolate covered pretzels.

I know, really, a pretzel? Yes. A thin twist of pretzel. Covered in high quality, 70% cacao dark chocolate. Sweet and salty and crunchy. It was like watching a whole new universe open before my eyes as all that taste sensation happened on my tongue.

There were a lot of benefits to working at Sells. But it was also disillusioning. Dream crushing. Jading. You see, when you work in a Hallmark store, you have to begin hawking the next holiday anywhere from a month to 6 months in advance of the actual holiday. At first it seems harmless. You are putting out the Valentine's Day cards in late December, right after Christmas. Sure, why not. You are tired of all the Christmas cards and ornaments anyway, since THEY have been out since JULY. I am not kidding. Six months of looking at, organizing, dusting and reorganizing Christmas in all it's commercialized glory.

But it was the lesser holidays that were ruined for me more than Christmas. Especially Valentine's Day. Sell's was right next to one of the bus stops that delivered the working people from Cleveland back to Bay Village every evening. On February 14th, beginning around 4pm, every bus meant an onslaught of men leaping from the bus, dashing into the store, hollering "One box of whatever you've got" while grabbing whatever card was still presentable and not bent in the For My Wife section of the Valentine's cards. We always had variety boxes pre-wrapped, in various sizes, so we could just pick one for the man in question, ring up the sale with the card, which was often signed right there at the counter as it was paid for and off he went to rush home to look like he actually meant the sentiment inside the card.

A small part of me died working in that store, from the summer of 1981 to summer of 1982. As I watched people express affection for each other just because the calendar said they should, in the way that society deemed you should, I realized that I hated Hallmark. I love Hoops and Yoyo but even they have gotten too commercial. You have to pay for the best of their cards to be delivered electronically. But they are really funny. But I digress...

I want people to pick a day, just any random day in the year, that isn't a holiday, isn't an anniversary or birthday, and buy flowers, or a card, or a stuffed animal, or a cake, whatever the person you are going to give it to would REALLY appreciate, and give it to someone you love or care about. JUST BECAUSE. Love, appreciation, gratitude should not be scheduled, commercialized or otherwise prescribed.

Go forth and celebrate Valentine's Day if that is your thing. Give candy, flowers, cards. But do it again sometime, for no reason whatsoever, because you appreciate someone.

So sayeth Mid Life Mama.

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