When I began writing Be My Texas Valentine I decided not to do the typical boy meets girl on Valentine’s Day story. I wanted something different, so decided to use the facts around the railroad coming to the Texas Panhandle coupled with a true story that took place at the second town established in the Panhandle, Old Tascosa. As the story went, the men wanted to add gravel to the town’s dusty streets to entice the merchants to come to Tascosa thus making certain the railroad didn’t bypass the town. There was a need for an organ at the church, so an oyster supper was held at the Exchange Hotel. I took my creative liberties to determine that the women wanted the organ and the men being merchants wanted the gravel streets.
Oh by the way, for those who don’t know, the coast of Texas is about a fourteen hour drive today, so the “oysters” no doubt were mountain oysters (calf fries to some) but that could only take place during “cutting season”. Since my story was to take place in February, I had to change the type of benefit; thus, a boxed supper for the women and a BBQ and beer for the men.
That was the birth of Loving Miss Laurel, but lot of things changed as I galloped along with the novella. I decided the women of Farley Springs wanted a library, while the mayor and the other men thought paved streets were needed. My visionary mayor had a lot of surprises thrown at him … the first being his childhood sweetheart showing up from back East and then she got bamboozled into helping the women make sure the money raised was for the library.
With Valentine’s Day coming up, I thought it’d be fun to look at its history and customs; and man oh man, did I ever find a lot of interesting things to share with you all today. We all know that most of the Western countries celebrate Valentine’s Day on February 14th, and most of the U.S. customs; so I’m going to go back a few centuries, oh let’s say as far back as the 17th Century and look at some.
In Europe, people celebrate in many ways. In some areas of England, people bake valentine buns with caraway seeds, plums, or raisins. People in Italy hold a Valentine’s Day feast.
In Britain and Italy, some unmarried women get up before sunrise on Valentine’s Day. They stand by the window watching for a man to pass. They believe that the first man they see, or someone who looks like him, will marry them within a year. William Shakespeare, the English playwright, mentions this belief in Hamlet (1603). Ophelia, a woman in the play, sings: Good morrow! ‘Tis St. Valentine’s Day All in the morning betime, And I a maid at your window, To be your valentine!
In Denmark, people send pressed white flowers called snowdrops to their friends. Danish men also send a type of valentine called a gaekkebrev (joking letter). The sender writes a rhyme but does not sign his name. Instead, he signs the valentine with dots, one dot for each letter of his name. If the woman who gets it guesses his name, he rewards her with an Easter egg on Easter.
Many Valentine’s Day customs involved ways that single women could learn who their future husbands would be. Englishwomen of the 1700’s wrote men’s names on scraps of paper, rolled each in a little piece of clay, and dropped them all into water. The first paper that rose to the surface supposedly had the name of a woman’s true love. Also in the 1700’s, unmarried women pinned five bay leaves to their pillows on the eve of Valentine’s Day. And, one description of Valentine’s Day during the 1700’s tells how groups of friends met to draw names. For several days, each man wore his valentine’s name on his sleeve. The saying wearing his heart on his sleeve probably came from this practice.
The earliest records of Valentine’s Day in English tell that birds chose their mates on that day. Shakespeare also mentioned this belief in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A character in the play discovers two lovers in the woods and asks, “St. Valentine is past; Begin these woodbirds but to couple now?” Of interest, DeWanna’s story in our anthology is entitled Sweet Talk and has love birds in it.
One of the oldest customs was the practice of writing women’s names on slips of paper and drawing them from a jar. The woman whose name was drawn by a man became his valentine, and he paid special attention to her.
Many men gave gifts to their valentines. In some areas, a young man gave his valentine a pair of gloves. Wealthy men gave fancy balls to honor their valentines. The custom of sending romantic messages gradually replaced that of giving gifts.
In the 1700’s and 1800’s, many stores sold handbooks called valentine writers. These books included verses to copy and various suggestions about writing valentines.
Do you have a favorite custom you share with your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day? To celebrate the upcoming holiday, I will give one lucky commenter an autographed copy of Be My Texas Valentine.