My family took Valentine’s Day seriously. When my brother and I would wake up on February 14th, sometimes my parents would have covered our pillows with those little candy Be Mine hearts. My Mom would bake a cake in a heart-shaped pan, and I would be sent to school with valentines for my teacher and my entire class, which would be stuffed into a decorated shoebox on the teacher’s desk.
But there was a great Valentine’s Day mystery at our house. My parents were very much in love, and every year my Dad would give my Mom several valentines, in envelopes marked SBKR. Back then, all I knew was that my Mom’s name was Selma Klahr Rudnick (Klahr was her maiden name.) Whenever I asked either my Mom or my Dad what the B stood for, they refused to tell me. It was clearly part of their secret language.
I only found out, many years later, that my mother’s middle name
was Blossom. To her dying day, she still refused to talk about it, but I got the impression that she thought Blossom was either a silly or a frilly name, and definitely not her style. So my Dad was the only person who was allowed to call her Blossom or at least to use the initial.
My Dad’s first name also held a secret. I grew up thinking that he was Norman Rudnick, but I found out, again years later, that his mother had in fact named him after her favorite silent movie star, Mabel Normand, and that his legal first name was Normand. Which, like my Mom, he thought sounded too exotic or too French and just not him. Mabel Normand had been the great love of the silent film pioneer Mack Sennett, who created the Keystone Kops, and she was also at the center of the notorious William Desmond Taylor love triangle/murder. She became addicted to cocaine and died at 37, of tuberculosis.
While my parents were Selma and Norman, on Valentine’s Day I think of them as Blossom and Normand.
My own partner, John, has continued this romantic tradition, because he has a tattoo on his shoulder, of a heart with a dagger through it, and my name. We’ve joked that he can always change the tattoo to read I HATE PAUL or RAUL, but I still think it’s the most wonderfully romantic thing anyone’s ever done, especially for me.
And yes, I’m way too chicken to get a JOHN tattoo. But there are photos of me, watching in agony as John happily gets his tattoo. He’s amazingly impervious to pain, but just watching him getting tattooed almost killed me. When I told my mother about John’s tattoo, she thought about it and then decided that she approved because, as my Aunt Lil had remarked,”You can take a ring off.”