My Valentines to People Who Have Mattered
February 14, 2022
Dear Readers: This essay, published today in Next Avenue. is the Editor's Pick.
Happy Valentine's Day!
Many people have found their way into my heart. They include crushes, supporters, and deep, lasting loves. Here are the valentines I would send to all of them if I could.
We were 11 when you handed me a valentine during recess. My first from a boy. I slept with it under my pillow. I thought you were being polite because we were hall monitors together. You were so cute.
You got cuter, very popular, and always had cool girlfriends. I could not wait for high school to end.
At our 25th high school reunion, I sat at a table far from you and the sharp crowd. You asked me to dance the first slow dance. That surprised me more than the valentine. When I mentioned my one-time crush, you said I should have told you. You had one on me, too.
Who knows if we would have gone steady, to the prom, and built a life together? Who knows what might have happened to any of us, without our silence and fears?
I doubt we would have become lifelong partners, but as I moved in your arms to the music, I was the queen of the hop.
Of my last seven hair stylists, you have given me the best cuts and book recommendations. I appreciate that when I bring in pictures of Blythe Danner and Michelle Pfeiffer, asking you to make me look just like them, you don't roll your eyes or say, "Get real."
More than that, I appreciate your refusal to ask the colorists at your salon to color my graying hair or even discuss it, because you think my gray is beautiful and love how it is growing in.
Dear Harriet Tubman,
When I discovered who you were and how you freed so many enslaved people on the underground railroad, I devoured books and articles about you. I wanted my second-grade pupils to learn about you, too.
I could not find biographies about you for young children, so I wrote one. I called it "Rebel Slave." It was published in 1977. Despite the pain you experienced and witnessed as an enslaved woman, you were inspired to your journeys. Your greatness and bravery continue to inspire me.
Although I thought you would be treating me for a writing block, my first sentence in my first psychotherapy session was about my mother's mental illness. It came out. Just like that. I felt so safe with you. On and off for years, from my becoming a mother, getting divorced, dating, and through my parents' deaths, you were profoundly there.
In 2017 when I visited you in the Alzheimer's unit of the nursing home where you lived, you didn't seem to recognize me at first. "It's Nancy," I said. "Do you remember our work together?"
You smiled. "Of course. You were very young."
"So were you," I said. We laughed. Oh, how we laughed. I told you my daughter Emily got married, I got remarried, had several books published, and became a grandmother.
You said, "You worked so hard."
"I still do," I told you.
You died months later, but you remain with me, helping me be and grow.
Dear Adam and Christine,
Who knew at age 70, I would embark on this new path of playwriting? Lucky me that you both directed readings of my play at your theaters. Your talents, experience, and actors enhanced my words, enabling me to see and hear what I put on the page. Along with comments at the Q&As you conducted after with the audiences, you have guided me with revisions.
I hope my play is produced in your theaters with you as my directors. Encore! Encore!
To the Meal Delivery People,
You are not to blame when the wonton soup is cold, and the salmon teriyaki has so little salmon. Writing and teaching until early evening leave me little time or desire to cook or think about it. You have made dinner more relaxing. I look forward to seeing you.
Whenever I called the doorman, needing you to fix a leak, my broken dishwasher, or another problem not related to the building, you showed up immediately, even at the beginning of your 7:00 am shift, fixed what was wrong and asked if anything else had to be repaired. I invariably tried tipping you. You invariably refused. Your retirement to a warm climate is well-deserved.
It prompted me to find a handy mensch of a man to marry.
To Al Pacino and Antonio Banderas,
I thought I should let you guys know — I am no longer available.
Ryan's letter at the beginning of the pandemic saying, "I wish I could see you in person" is still on the fridge. Every day, I wear the green and purple pipe cleaner bracelet Charlotte made me. The mug, notebook, and calendar with photos of their sweet, smiling faces you sent make me giddy.
So does seeing you as such a loving mother. The gleam in your eyes for your children, and watching you make Gummy Bears, snuggle, read, and simply hang out together fill me with the deepest pride.
Your spirit and warmth shined when, as a baby, you waved your arms and legs in your infant seat next to the piano as I played and sang show tunes. You belted out "Old Man River" before you spoke in sentences, walked down the hall in your pajamas with your pull toy singing, "Me and My Llama," and at age 7, started sending letters to Grandma and Grandpa saying, "If you need anything, do not hesitate to call me."
Your children inherited your spirit, warmth, and sense of humor.
When they perform in costumes or sports uniforms, show you their schoolwork, drawings, and writing, you sing their praises. "Good job," you say.
Good job, honey. You are my treasure.
It took me to age 60 to find you. There was no Covid and no pinched nerves in my spine and your neck. Now, 14 years later, we have fewer teeth, more doctors, and our own heating pads.
Some things changed. Some never do. Despite the tension the pandemic caused, I am grateful we are experiencing it together and not just because I don't know how to use the remote. You are my ticket to every day. I am crazy in love with you. Thank you for saying, "yes."
Nancy Davidoff Kelton has written seven books including "Writing From Personal Experience" and a memoir, "Finding Mr. Rightstein," from which she has adapted the play with the same title. The play received an Honorable Mention in the 11th Annual Jewish Plays Project Competition. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Parents, McSweeney's and other publications. She teaches at the New School, the Strand Bookstore and privately. Read More