McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

State House

February 13, 2014

A history of love: Great-grandma holds on to a hundred years of valentines

ENID, Okla. — The mail carrier serving Helen Klein’s neighborhood came and went Thursday just like any other day. This time, though, he unknowingly helped extend a family tradition that dates back more than a century.

Klein was in her sitting room admiring a table-full of colorful and poignant cards when the mail slot opened and letters fell to the ground.

“There’s the mail,” she said. “I’ll bet we got a valentine.”

And there it was, in an unassuming envelope from an address she recognized as one of her 15 grandchildren, the latest addition to Klein’s Valentine’s Day card collection.

The card actually was from her great-grandson. To “Ga and Poppy,” it read. And after Valentine’s Day is over, it will join about 100 other cards in a red suitcase Klein keeps in her attic.

For five generations, Klein’s family has held on to their valentines. The oldest is from the turn of the century. It was given to Nellie Morrison, her aunt, who was a schoolteacher. It probably came from one of her students, she said.

The card found its way to Klein’s mom, who also was a valentine collector. Now the great-grandmother has a collection of love tokens from just about every decade since statehood.

“Isn’t that crazy?” Klein said. “It’s just stuff. It doesn’t mean anything to anyone but me, but I like it.”

Looking back through the cards is like looking back through time. It shows the attention to detail cardmakers used to have, from the intricately cut corners and edges to the lofty poems printed on them in fading ink.

One, from 1898, was more collegial than romantic:

“May pleasures be yours as you journey along; not a day pass without its full share. In spite of those ills to which mortals belong, may your life remain free from all care.”

But another from this century shows a cartoonish scene on the front — a man carrying a deer with both hands. On the inside:

“Happy Valentine’s Day to someone ... I hold deer.”

There are valentines to her and from her. There are cards passed between sisters and friends.

If Klein had to pick a favorite, it would be the two oldest cards her family has held on to. But she did point out another card crafted like a pop-up book. It is as big as a book and has blue embellishments drawn on.

“They’re fancy fancy,” she said.

Collecting valentines came naturally to Klein.

“We’re savers. Mother was a saver and I got them from her,” she said.

Valentines are pretty much the only ones she keeps, though. She usually adorns a countertop near the living room every February. The only other cards she’ll save are Christmas cards with pictures; it’s just a space issue.

“Good Lord, there wouldn’t be room in the house if I did that,” Klein said.

She even saved a little bit of that space by re-using one of her cards. In the ’70s, she found one for her husband; it’s yellow and has a bright red flower on the front.

“For the last long time, I’ve given this same valentine to Tom,” she said with broad laughter. “Well, he finally figured out it was the same one so now he gives the same one to me.”

There’s a bond Klein’s family shares around the Valentine’s Day holiday. The local family will get together every year for a “string party.” Each of the youngest gets a string of yarn. On one end, their valentine. The different colors are laid through her modest home as each kid rolls their yarn into a ball, inching closer to their surprise.

After a while, though, Klein’s children and grandchildren send their own valentines back home because they know she’ll keep them safe, and together, in that little red suitcase.

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