José’s Valentine: A Story for Today

val day

In the spirit of this day, I take a break from things political to bring you this story of young love.

The year was about 2005. Dr. Aardvark and I—assisted by a merry band from our local Church of the Two Holy Heresies—ran an after-school enrichment program for third graders at an inner city school.

We aimed to foster artistic and verbal expression. We called our program the Words and Pictures Club.

Valentine’s Day rolled around. I announced that today each student would make a valentine for one of his or her favorite people. But these would be somewhat unusual valentines, because each would contain a message of at least two paragraphs, and each paragraph would have a proper topic sentence, together with at least two other sentences to explain and amplify the topic sentence.

At the station I personned, I was equipped with computer, card creation software,  card stock, envelopes, and a color printer. But before coming to me to design and print the valentine, each student first had to work with Dr. Aardvark or one of the other volunteers, to write up with their two paragraph valentine message.

Tiana and Jasmine, two chubby third graders, were overjoyed to learn about the day’s project. “Ooh, ooh, ooh, Mr. Aardvark, can I make a valentine for José?” Tiana implored. “Yeah,” her friend Jasmine added, “José be havin’ a real crush on Tiana!”

Having anticipated that most valentine recipients would be mothers, teachers, grandmothers, and the like, I was surprised by this request, but could not refuse it. I directed Tiana to work with Sarah, one of our adult volunteers—who took her paragraph tutoring seriously, and whose tutees often produced surprisingly polished prose.

One by one, the students brought me their short essays, selected their designs, and produced their valentines. Most were, as anticipated, for mothers, teachers, or grandmothers. One was for a father in prison.

In due course, Tisha and Sarah completed their efforts, and Tisha brought me her two paragraphs and selected her card design. I began to type in the short essay, beginning of course with the first topic sentence: “José, there are many reasons why I love you!

Well, thought I, we have indubitably inculcated the concept of a topic sentence, because Tisha has produced the topic sentence that tops all other topic sentences. It is a sentence that grabs you by the throat and punches you in the gut.

I read on to see how Tisha would enlarge upon her Valentine’s Day theme. She continued, “We have so many things in common. For example, we both like pizza with ranch dressing.

That surely develops the point, I silently observed. And if two people share a love for something so repulsive as pizza and ranch dressing, it  sounds like a match made in heaven. But let’s see how she follows this up with another paragraph.

Coming to the second paragraph, I continued typing, as panic broke over me: “There are many things I would like to do with you, José.

Oh, no, I thought. This is beginning to sound like a seriously bad idea. What mess have José and I gotten ourselves into?

Tisha continued with her exposition: “For example, I would like to have you over to my house for milk and cookies.

She concluded her short essay on a slightly more daring thought: “Maybe we could even go to a movie together.

Daring though the suggestion for a movie date may have been, I was considerably relieved to learn the full scope of planned boy-girl activities.

We printed out Tisha’s valentine, complete with its message of love. Tisha sealed it in an envelope and wrote José’s name in large letters on the outside.

At this point Tisha disclosed that José was in another after-school program downstairs, and could she please be dismissed to go down and serve the valentine one him. I said yes. She ran eagerly from the classroom, envelope clutched in hand.

I hope he was pleased