No goats were harmed in the writing of this column

By the time you read this, I hopefully will have survived another Valentine’s Day.

The “saint” part of the holiday seems to have disappeared, which saddens me a bit. It’s one of those holidays that, like Topsy, just kind of grew.

It started as a pagan celebration called Lupercalia, which involved animal sacrifices, after which the men dressed as male goats and ran through the village slapping women with strips of the sacrificial animal’s skin. This was to ensure fertility for the coming year.

This just looked like too much fun to the early Christians, who tried to turn it into a Christian holiday honoring St. Valentine. He had been put death by Claudius, the Roman emperor who, believing that single men made better soldiers than married men, banned marriage.

Valentine, a local priest, continued to marry young lovers. Claudius threw him into prison and sentenced him to death.

One of the many versions of the story says that Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and on the day he was executed, sent her a love letter which he signed “Your Valentine.” The execution date was Feb. 14.

I learned to dread Valentine’s Day as a small child.

It was all right early on. The only one I needed a Valentine for was my mom. Moms are easy — any piece of semi-clean paper, a red crooked crayon heart, something vaguely resembling the word “love” and your signature, and your yearly responsibility had been met.

Fathers didn’t need a Valentine. Hearts and flowers and stuff like that just aren’t a dad kind of thing. Most dads would probably rather bring back the goat costumes and the run through the village thing.

Valentine’s Day didn’t get stressful until school started. The first few years weren’t too bad since at that age you don’t know what’s going on anyway. Mom bought the bag of Valentines, filled them out, and all I had to do was put one in each kid’s envelope that was taped on the front of their desk. Cupcakes with sprinkles, onto the bus and it was over. Easy.

About fifth grade, things started getting sticky. I learned that those yucky people in class were called “girls.”

Mom said I had to give a Valentine to each and every one of my classmates — even the girl ones.

We made our yearly journey to Kinney’s Drug Store to pick out our cards for the occasion. There wasn’t much of a choice. No cool superhero or nasty ones. Most of them were of the Disney variety. They came in sheets with a bunch of envelopes that had bad-tasting glue.

I would make a list of all the kids in my class and after tearing the cards carefully apart, I tried to match the cards to names. The guys were easy. The Pluto and Goofy cards went quickly.

The Clarabelle the cow and the Minnie Mouse ones were put aside for the girls.

The cow ones didn’t present a problem — the poor cow was ugly enough to give to a girl. The problem was that there weren’t enough of them. That left Minnie, who was just too cute.

I was forced into being creative and at an early age developed my artistic talents by drawing a mustache on Minnie.

For about four or five years Minnie with a mustache got me through. I sometimes wonder if any of them survive to this very day.

Girls got less yucky with each passing year and in high school the stress increased even though the number of valentines decreased.

One or two carefully chosen or crafted valentines with no signature were slipped through locker louvers. Girlfriends brought my romantic side to a boil for years and for a time every day was Valentine’s Day.

Finally I met, wooed and won my fair lady. Valentine’s Day is less stress now. I know the kind of flowers and candy she likes. It’s a comfortable kind of thing and I like it.

To keep from becoming boring, though, this year maybe I’ll see if I can find a goat suit in my size.

Thought for the week — Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

Until next week, may you and yours be happy and well.

Reach Dick Brooks at

Johnson Newspapers 7.1


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