Long ago in this same city but at a much different time, I was in the second grade at a Catholic school and it was Valentine's Day.
On her desk, Sister put a shoebox wrapped in red crepe paper with a slit in the lid, for her pupils to drop their valentines in. After recess, she would open the box and read out the name of the child it was addressed to.
The night before, when I was addressing my valentines, I wrote 10 cards to my fellow student Johnny. Now I think I should explain why I wrote so many cards to one boy.
Johnny was an orphan house child and he was always in trouble. No amount of scolding or punishment could make him shut up or keep still and he didn't know his lessons. Looking back, Johnny was probably hyperkinetic or had ADHD, but no one knew those terms or what they meant back then, so Johnny got no professional help and was labeled a "bad boy."
One day, Johnny was being particularly disruptive and Sister was in no mood for his antics. She ordered him to go to the principal's office, but Johnny refused to go.
Sister then sent a pupil to bring the principal to our classroom. Together the two nuns dragged Johnny, kicking and yelling, to the office. A while later, Sister and Johnny returned and to the horror of his classmates, Johnny was wearing a dress.
Seeing Johnny humiliated with his face flushed and sweaty and his head bowed down, I knew right then that I would champion this boy and somehow make him my boyfriend. For that purpose, and because I feared no one else would send him a card, I put 10 Valentines addressed to Johnny in the valentine box.
The anticipated time had arrived, Sister took the box top off and began calling out names. For Johnny to receive even one card was amazing, but by the time he went up to Sister's desk to receive his 10th valentine, the class was in an uproar.
The boys gathered around his desk reading out loud the mushy verse on the cards and teasing him. They wanted to know who would send Johnny all those valentines.
The girls indignantly denied they did. One clever boy, however, figured out how he could solve the mystery.
I had signed the cards "gess who," misspelling guess. He sneaked around to each girl's desk and asked her to spell guess. When he came to me I confidently spelled out g-e-s-s. I was busted. There was nothing to do but 'fess up. I bravely admitted that I had sent all the cards to Johnny because he was my boyfriend and I thought he was the cutest boy in the class.
A sing-songy chant of "Jackie loves Johnny" went out. Sister had a hard time reining us in and back to our schoolwork. She let me slide on my excessive card-sending to Johnny; instead she told the class "had Jacqueline paid as much attention to her spelling lessons as she did to valentines cards, she might have kept her little secret."
Then she gave the class a lecture on the importance of proper spelling and gave me extra homework of writing "guess" spelled correctly 100 times.
At recess the next day, the students insisted on hearing Johnny admit he was my boyfriend. He was a little confused by this kind of attention. He had denied it many times and added he didn't like any girls.
"Johnny, we have the same initials," I coaxed. Somehow, he accepted the initials thing as some kind of scientific proof and finally caved in and admitted he was my boyfriend. Being girlfriend and boyfriend second-grade style required no special attention to each other; just admitting it was enough.
For the rest of the school year, things were pretty much the same except I noticed Johnny's status went up a bit with his classmates. After all, he was the only boy in class with an admitted girlfriend.
The next school year, I went up the third grade, but unfortunately Johnny had to repeat the second grade. That was the end of my valentine romance. I never knew what happened to Johnny, but I always hoped it was something good.
Jackie Lear is a native Charlestonian. She is a member of "The Hat Ladies" and works on community service projects.