Appalachian mountain folk speak differently. Having their language often mistaken for uneducated ignorance is actually a uniqueness they are proud of. One such word used is "Valentimes" for Valentine.
In our household, it was called that long after moving from the holler to metropolitan Detroit and as we immigrated into the suburbs and eventually rural areas.
As a fifth grader, an unforgettable Valentine’s Day came and went. Here’s my tale:
It was customary for each student to decorate a box in which to insert their cards from classmates. January ended with eager anticipation over the creation of the loveliest box and winning the big prize — which fails my memory, especially since I was never declared the winner.
With the scant materials available in our home, we scrambled each year to come up with four or more decorated shoe boxes for the big day. One year, I had to use an oatmeal box.
First, a wide slot was cut in the top of the lid, up to 5 inches long and at least half an inch wide, to insert the Valentimes. Next, we covered and decorated the box and lid to the best of our abilities, crudely cutting, pasting and coloring with profound focus.
The more privileged students used brilliant red shiny paper and lots of lacy paper doilies, big ribbons and bows and often fake flowers that coordinated perfectly with their other materials. We sometimes made tissue flowers, too.
Long hours were spent at the kitchen table, painstakingly selecting the perfect card for each classmate. It could not sound too mushy for the jerks, bullies or homeliest child, but there was no exclusion. Even the least popular kids went home with a big box filled with love. And besides, there was usually cookies, candies, cupcakes and punch!
At this particular school (I attended 11 in total before starting high school), the judges were traditionally the top male and female scholars of each grade. Jerry and I inherited the honor, and we were excited to be judges of the sixth graders.
Now, here is the problem. First of all, we still believed the opposite sex had cooties. Secondly, Jerry and I didn’t agree on anything. I think he was looking for a more masculine touch. Each box that I noted as a standout, he quickly shot down. His choices were hideous.
Growing frustration finally sent me over the edge before we found a few that we had narrowed it down to. There was a "Most Original" category and several others.
This gal was about to burst with frustration. At one point, I simply wanted to be done with it. With Jerry’s taste, I began to wonder how on earth he qualified as the top male student. Did he cheat his way there? Were the other boys even dumber that he? Somehow, he lacked any sense of beauty, decorum or any sense, period. Questions kept filling my mind, but the solution always escaped my grasp.
Finally, I pulled him into the hallway and laid down the law. Now, Jerry didn’t cotton to that very much. We were both skinny and scrawny, but I stood nearly a foot taller than he. As the firstborn of five, I am not bossy — but I am a leader. So I did my level best to lead Jerry, failing miserably. Maybe he needed some bossing.
We agreed to go back inside, where the decorated boxes lined the windowsills and the heat registers along the entire length of the classroom. Giving him the Look, he was left with no doubt of misunderstanding and finally selected a box for each category. I had already completed mine.
Then we walked around the room for a final look at the remaining contestants.
Imagine my shock and dismay when the one he selected for the best overall was not made of white, or red, or even pink. It was covered in hideous bright orange and royal blue crepe paper. In my opinion, there was not one thing Valentiney about that box!
It’s true that I root for Alabama, but orange and blue has to be one of the saddest displays of so-called color coordinating that I’ve ever laid eyes on.
Even more shocking was that I finally agreed to his choices just because he was so belligerent and I was plumb tired of foolin’ with the whole mess. My disappointment was only matched by my disgust.
Of course, back then I had never heard of Auburn, but every time I see any team play in those colors, that contest with Jerry flashes back like a bad dream — and that’s why I say "Roll Tide" and not "War Eagle."
That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.
— A coal miner’s daughter born in Appalachia and schooled in Michigan, she currently lives in rural Athens. Hill describes herself as a cook and cookbook author, jack of all trades and master of none, a Christian wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She shares her home with her husband, Bob, and their spoiled-beyond-belief dog, Molly.