Pink and red tulips ~ a touch of spring in winter. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

Pink and red tulips ~ a touch of spring in winter. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

Valentine cupcakes: rich chocolate with white sprinkled icing and strawberry accents--and silver hearts!

Valentine cupcakes: rich chocolate with white sprinkled icing and strawberry accents–and silver hearts!

Hug him and Elmo tells you: "Hugs and kisses" ~ "Elmo loves you!"  and he makes kissing sounds!

Hug him and Elmo tells you: “Hugs and kisses” ~ “Elmo loves you!” and he makes kissing sounds!

Dear Mom,

Imagine a day many years ago, when a substitute filled in for one of the teachers in my elementary school. February 14th was a day of great expectations: home room mothers were bringing in cookies and juice for treats; construction paper hearts adorned the windows; and all the children’s decorated boxes were lined up at the back of the room, filled during the previous days with numerous little cards and greetings from classmates.

Imagine, Mom, how one substitute made sure that no child was disappointed when it was time to read the valentines in the boxes. Who sensed which children might not receive many cards–the shy or lonely ones, those who were often left out of playground games, those whose boxes had very few greetings even on the day before—and who do you think played Cupid?  The night before Valentine’s Day, what if that one special person recruited me to help (I was an “older kid”–in 6th grade, I think), and what if she and I addressed two special cards for each of the children who otherwise might not receive many?

One was store bought, with funny cartoons and cute messages…and a sucker tied to the card with a ribbon. For each of these cards it was my job was to print the student’s name on the envelope with a crayon, and on the card I printed messages like “You are my best secret pal!” or “Happy Valentine’s Day to the nicest boy (or girl) in the class!”  You were the special person, Mom, who gave me the job of being anonymously creative, and I loved it!

The second card was one of the common little folded greetings sold in packs of a dozen at the dime store. Do you remember printing the student’s name on the envelope (writing like a kid), tucking the folded heart inside the envelope, and then adding little candy hearts printed with special messages. Five candies in each envelope! Do you remember how much fun it was to prepare these special valentines?

The next day imagine us arriving early at school. I went with you into the classroom. While you set up materials for the day, I delivered the extra special cards to the boxes that obviously had fewer cards than the others. I had a great time, and I promised not to tell anyone.  Until now. 😉

You don’t remember the wonderful things you’ve done for children, Mom, but this Valentine’s Day story illustrates one way you cared for all children: your own children and grandchildren; children you helped in CASA and taught in Sunday School, in kindergarten classes, and wherever you encountered children of all ages. I remember, Mom, the difference you made day after day, year after year, with your full, kind and loving heart. I write this post so your great-grandchildren will know you better.

John Updike wrote: “We are most alive when we’re in love.”  Which explains why you have lived so long and been so content in spite of the dementia you have now…you’ve always been in love, with life and with children.

Author Martha Atwood said: The Eskimos had 52 nems for snow because it was important to them; there ought to be as many for love."

Author Margaret Atwood said: “The Eskimos had 52 names for snow because it was important to them; there ought to be as many for love.” (Jim, our grandchildren and our dog Maggie loving their hike together in the snow.)


Filed under Abilene Kansas, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons for great-grandchildren, special quotations

69 responses to “GREAT EXPECTATIONS

  1. Someone asked recently, who is my hero.

    After reading this, your mom is my hero.

  2. 🙂 Thank you, Tracy. Don’t tell anyone, but she’s kind of my hero, too.

  3. What a lovely memory to share. I bet it made a huge difference to those children who received the most special Valentine’s Day cards that year.
    I’d love one of those cupcakes!

    • I think she made a huge difference in many children’s lives, Rod.
      Happy Valentine’s Day. These are the cupcakes I bought at a deli for my Wednesday writing group. It made critiquing manuscripts so much sweeter! Now doesn’t that make you wish you were in the group?

  4. Molly

    I had never heard this story, you really did keep it a secret! I love the story, and I love how much you and grandma have always done to make others feel their importance!

  5. Marylin, the best valentine I ever received (other than from my husband!) was in elementary school, probably 5th or 6th grade. A boy I walked with to school gave me a red glittery card that I knew was very special. I think there was a cowgirl and cowboy on it!
    I was reliving all of my childhood Valentine boxes 😉 as I read your lovely post. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful memory. A big Valentine kiss to your mom!
    xo Joanne

    • A red glittery card? Wow! In 5th and 6th grade that was almost a proposal of marriage, Joanne. I hope you still have it, dropping glitter everywhere and spreading the joy.
      I will definitely give my mom a Valentine kiss from you. She’ll love it. She might not know who I am or what I’m talking about, but she’ll love it.

  6. juliabarrett

    What a beautiful touching story. How lucky those children were to have your mom (and you). I have such tangible memories of those valentine’s boxes – the construction paper, the hearts, the glue, the shoe boxes. And those little valentines! Loved the messages on the hearts, hated the taste of the hearts!

    • You know, Julia, there was a boy in one of my elementary school classes who loved to eat the glue. I can still remember looking up from my project and seeing scraps of construction paper glued to his mouth and chin! The memories we have of long-ago Valentine’s Days!

  7. Its a very moving tale and one to be proud of. Such thoughtfulness is rare and will have made many children happy. A heroine indeed.

    • Thanks, Andrew. And as much as possible she did these thoughtful things anonymously, so the recipient would look around and think many people could have send a card or left a gift…and feel even more loved.

  8. Dear Marylin, you never fail to hit the heart with you reminiscences and this is no exception. There must be a lot of adults running about today who enjoyed their Valentine’s Day so much more because of the kindness showed by a mother/daughter team back then. Kids who might otherwise have been taunted and ridiculed.
    One of the reasons I love the letters to your mother so much is because I can see the same sweetness in you, my friend, and it could easily be letters written by your daughter about you. You touch people’s hearts.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • Oh, David, thank you for such sweet words. My mom always tried to make things better, in general and specifically, and I enjoyed being her assistant. But to hear you say you see the same qualities in me makes my day!
      Massive Hugs back to you!

  9. Don

    This is such a wonderful post Marylin. I don’t think we could ever imagine the influence and life-giving power of this kind of kindness and sensitivity, especially towards children. I have two teachers who stand out for me precisely because of their kindness and sensitivity, not only towards me but to the others I journeyed with in school. I’m sure there are many who look upon your mother in the same way. What a gift and privilege to be remembered like that.

    • Sometimes when I least expect it, Don, I’ll be in the grocery store getting treats for Mom, or running errands around town, and someone I don’t know or barely remember will stop me and ask how my mother is doing. And then I’ll hear a story of some thoughtful, helpful, kind thing she did. Later I’ll tell her about it. She’ll listen and smile, and usually she’ll say, “Do we know her?”–no matter how carefully I’ve told her this is a story about her.
      But what truly matters is that how she’s lived has made a difference in many lives…not whether she remembers it or not. That, to me, is the mark of her true greatness.

  10. I believe I should tell Ms Atwood that I have found two more words that mean love; Mary and Marylin 🙂 A beautiful story.

  11. What a delightful adventure and mystery story. You know how hard teachers work. Some tasks are repetitive and take endurance, and this one was quite the opposite. It was a way to make students feel very special, for you to be mentored by your loving mother, and for her to work after school hours with her daughter. “Teachers affect eternity. One never know where their influence stops.” Henry Adams I have often wondered about the “where” in this quote favoring “when” instead. Your story certainly describes where their influence starts: in the hearts of a mother and daughter in one very special classroom that any parent would want their child to be.

    • Thank you, Georgette. My mother was a kindergarten teacher before my brother was born, so she taught for only a few years. I taught h.s. English and related subjects for thirty years. Several times she’d come for a visit–this is decades before my dad’s Alzheimer’s and my mom’s dementia–and she especially liked to sit in on my Writing To Publish class.
      She would take our her notebook and do the writing exercises, and then when they broke into groups she’d scoot her chair over to a group and ask if she could join them. High school students are always gracious about that kind of thing, but I think they sensed her genuine interest and caring, so she was always welcomed. A teacher is always a teacher.

  12. You have such a knack for weaving the nostalgic with the literary (Updike and Atwood). I loved reading about the compassionate impulses of your mother, which undoubtedly have passed on to you: e.g., cupcakes for your writers’ group, and most importantly, continuing this record of precious memories. You’re a great photographer too. The snow photo is frame-able, really!

    • I try, Marian, I really do. I know Mom won’t ever understand or appreciate this blog about her, but my goal has always been to capture and record special memories about her so that her great-grandchildren–who have known her only since the dementia–will have a sense of the amazing and kind woman who is their Mor-Mor-Mor (Swedish for mother’s mother’s mother.) Thank you for your comments.

  13. What a beautiful and very touching post Marylin, and a tribute to your mom’s extraordinary love and care for those children who might otherwise have been forgotten. How lovely too that she shared this great love in her heart with you, as you have the same love which you now share with your family, that much is obvious.

    I remember when I first started helping out with class parties in California with my children and how, every Valentine’s, the children were encouraged to write cards to everyone in their class so that nobody would feel left out. I thought what a wonderful idea, I had never thought of Valentine’s as being a way to show the love of friendship, only as a romantic kind of a thing. I loved helping the kids writing out their cards (the packs we used to buy at Wal Mart) and attaching lollipops or those boxes of Sweetheart candies to each card. It was also a great lesson in practicing their handwriting!

    It was so heartwarming for me when they would come home with their stash of treats and cards and to see their smiling, happy faces. I started a tradition then of always giving them cards and sweets for Valentine’s and still do, every year even thought they are 31, 25 and 21.

    I think of those children’s faces when they saw their ‘secret pal’ cards and treats, thanks to your mom, and you! What a beautiful legacy. Thank you for sharing this with us now.

    Marylin, I love your photos too, especially the one of your husband and grandchildren walking in the snow. (Sadly, we are still inundated with severe storms and flooding, no snow, just rain, rain and more rain…) I didn’t know that Eskimos have 52 words for snow! I agree, should be for love too!

    I hope you and your family had a very Happy Valentine’s Day 🙂

    • Sherri, at home my mom always guided us to write Valentine Cards for EVERY student in our classroom, as well as for the teacher, the custodian and the principal and secretary and lunch room ladies. It was good penmanship practice, like you said, but I didn’t especially enjoy all the time it required back then. Now I really appreciate it.
      I hope you and your family had a wonderful Valentine’s Day, too!

      • Ahh yes, I can just see your mom doing that and yes, I know just what you mean about the time it took! All I can say about that is I was very grateful for more than one reason when California introduced smaller class sizes for elementary schools when my kids were there 🙂

        We did thanks Marylin, and hope you did too. We stayed in as a storm raged all night, had a meal, some bubbly, just a few chocolates and watched the Olympics – the three of us – Hubby, Aspie D and me 🙂

  14. I love this post Marylin! Your mother is simply a gem of love! So incredibly kind, generous, and thoughtful, all in the name of children. Thank you for sharing your little secret to inspire us to always think of the little ones who may be left out. XO

    • That’s what I’m hoping, Robyn. When I share these specific, simple but important things my mom did, I think that if even one or two people will do something similar, and that affects others in a positive way, too…think of the difference it might make!
      Hugs to you for your wonderful photography and writing, Robyn!

  15. Hudson Howl

    I feel as if I was just hit by a pick-up truck -it did not hurt me, quite the opposite, am more alive as an result of it. Pure and powerful. Thank you.

  16. This is such a lovely story, Marylin – your Mom is such a special person – she must have been a wonderful teacher – I’m sure some of those little kids will remember her forever, as I remember one of my early school teachers – her name was Mrs Silversides (no kidding) and she was like everyone’s fairy godmother. I think your Mom has the same qualities – she obviously loved all those in her charge and they would have felt safe with her around, ready to give a little hug or wipe away a tear. Sharing out all those Valentine treats tells us all volumes … and I reckon her kindness and open heart has rubbed off on her daughter.

    • Mrs. Silversides, Jenny? What a name.
      Once my mom subbed in a first grade class. After school one little girl told her mother (who later laughingly told my mother) that her teacher’s name was, well, “What was I for halloween last year?” Her mother answered, “A leopard?” “Yeah, that’s it,” the little girl said, “Miss Leopard was her name.”
      Leopard. Shepherd. Kind of sounds the same. And the little girl thought it was so cool to have the name of a halloween costume.

      • That’s so sweet. Like the little boy who thought it was the Father, Son and Holy Goat …

      • Kids really do say the funniest things. Mom used to share the cutest things she saw children do. She never laughed at them, but with them, hugging them and complimenting their interpretations. She knew how to celebrate the beauty of their words and actions.

  17. This is a very valuable message, both thoughtful and lovingly delivered, Marylin. Such a wonderful photo of your grandchildren and you with the dog. Your touching words are such true ones, given through your writing your own personal Valentine’s story and the quotation. Way to go, Mary/Mom! Love means… so much when shared and given to all! Hugs, Robin

    • Thank you, Robin. Actually, my husband Jim is hiking with our dog and our grandchildren, but I’m taking the picture. I could do blogs on what a good grandpa he is!
      Like you, I believe that when love is shared and given to all, it means so much more.

  18. “Beau geste.” (Beautiful gesture.) Your Mom was kind, thoughtful and, no doubt, brought joy to many children. The Peanuts cartoon always shows Charlie Brown bemoaning not getting any Valentine’s Day cards. If his mailbox is full, they’re all for Snoopy. It’s no joke. It’s crushing to a child to be left out. I envy your secret pal conspiracy. Wonderful, Marilyn. 😉

    • And as you probably know from teaching, Judy, those who are left out aren’t usually left out of only one thing. It’s a crushing pattern that often affects an entire life.
      When you think about a “secret pal” note or gift, it really can be something special. You’re not certain who sent it, but obviously they thought you were special, so maybe it’s this person…or this one…and so on. Soon you’re suspecting many people of liking you and doing this nice thing.

  19. Marylin, your memories of your Mom’s loving altruism just keep getting better and better. This is such a wonderful touching story and I’m sure those children who were gifted the cards from you and your mother still remember those cards with such tender thoughts today. xxxxxxxxx

    Ishbel and I got back from Fuerteventura late on Wednesday night, had a chill day on Thursady and spent Valentines day being pampered in a spa with full body, head and face massages and Ishbel finished off with trim and manicure and a nice meal in the evening our 40th valentine 37 as an old married pair. Hope you had a great valentines day with Jim and were spoilt too xxxxx

    • What a wonderful time you two had, Tom. I caught some of the pictures on Facebook, and you both looked happy, relaxed, and enjoying every moment of your celebration. Happy anniversary, and many more! Thanks for the sweet words about this post. Many hugs!

  20. What a true gift from God, your mother was to these children and to anyone who was lucky enough to have her in their life. This is such a beautiful story, Marylin. I’m so happy you shared some of her love with us. xo

  21. Nice letter to mom. Some children just aren’t so lucky, unfortunately.

  22. What a lovely memory Marylin – your mother really was thoughtful and caring to think about the impact on those less popular children. And so wonderful that you were able to share that with her.

  23. Hi Marylin, Wonderful post as always. Many blessings, Ellen

  24. Among other things, John Updike was sure to have had your mom in mind when he wrote that. A beautiful, nostalgic post as always. And you, Maryline, are a chip of the old block! I am awed by your dedication.

  25. Nancy Parker Brummett

    Thanks, Marylin. Gorgeous photo of Jim with the kids. Wishing much LOVE to you.

    • Isn’t that a great picture? Trudging through snow together on a cold day, and then coming home for hot chocolate with marshmallows…it just doesn’t get any better that that for grandchildren (and Grandpa, too)! Much love to you, too, Nancy.

  26. Jim

    Marylin, I love the story about the school-room Valentine’s Day cards, and the way your mom included you. No doubt she appreciated your help with the cards, but she was also role-modeling something important for her own daughter. Maybe this event helps explain why you frequently seem to notice ‘The-Ones-Left-Out’ and go out of your way to make it better. Just the other day you delivered your legendary fresh, home-made soup to Ellen and Walter.

    You have passed that trait on to Molly, who was known to go above-and-beyond to help those who had enrolled in her GED program (Graduate Equivalency Diploma for high school drop-outs). Many of her students were persons left-out and left-behind years ago. I remember hearing about one such enrollee who had food for a day and lived in a car. Maybe someday Molly will tell that story here.

    Well, Marylin, it seems to me that Molly is passing the ‘left-out’ trait on to Grace and Gannon, who often point out that one or the other sibling is being left out of something nice. Not to mention how they both do things like reaching out to the boy in the neighborhood who had no friends. Nobody asked them to do that. It was their idea.

    You did it again, Mary Shepherd. An unbroken chain of caring and helping.

    • Oh, Jim, my mom would love this post…love to read your tribute to her and know how her example has created the attitude of the next and the next generations.
      Having a son-in-law say this is the highest praise for the mother-in-law, and you’ve always been there for her and for all of us. I love you, honey.
      We all do!

  27. Beautiful photos and a wonderful story Marylin! Reading about your mom’s (and your) thoughtfulness has made the world seem a little brighter today. Thank you very much.

  28. Marylin, beautiful photos. I always loved Elmo.
    This story was beautiful. It shows us the true meaning of love…caring for others.
    Thank you for sharing even though your mom said to keep it a secret. Now was the time to release it. 🙂

  29. What I’ve noticed is how children are getting back to making cards. Last week I received many from my students, with glued on hearts and handwritten messages. Talk about a labor of love!

  30. And those cards are the keepers, Darla! Genuine, in their own words–even though some of the words are misspelled–they are still the most touching.
    I think schools should be creative and combine writing skills with art and have students spend some time each day the week before Valentine’s Day, making their cards. Think what a happy learning experience that would be!

  31. What a wonderful act from you and your mother! Such simple acts of kindness and thoughtfulness can mean so much more than we might ever know. And that is all the more reason to engage in them!

    • You’re right, plus they do so much for us personally, too.
      I remember the times I secretly made things for others and then how good it felt to know how happy they were when they received them. It taught me at a young age that it really is more blessed to give than to receive…and it’s also a very happy thing to do!
      Thanks for the comment!

  32. Karin Van den Bergh

    Such a beautiful, heartwarming tale. I so much enjoyed reading it. So thoughtful of you and your mother and what a wonderful memory to cherish and share now, Marilyn It’s often underestimated, the power of a touch, a smile, those little acts of kindness but they make suuuuch a difference!

  33. Jane Thorne

    Thanks to your beautiful writing Marylin we all get t know your Mum. How blessed we are. Love flowing right back to you and all your loved ones. Xx

  34. Karen Keim

    This is an especially beautiful entry, Marylin. I love the pictures, and the snow scene is one to be painted. Your mother has been so thoughtful of others, and the valentines are a perfect example. Better yet, she enabled you to learn that quality/habit hands-on. I can easily imagine that our grandmother’s being a foster child made her children more aware of those who might be needy or left out.

    • Hi, Karen! Now that you’re in Arizona, you’re drawn to the Big Snow scenes that you were used to in Pennsylvania. I love that picture of our dog Maggie, Jim and our grandchildren too!
      You’re right about Grandma. As a foster child, she could have been resentful, but instead she was sensitive to children who might be needy or feel left out. My mother learned that well…and passed it on to us, too.

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