For many years, even until I was an adult, I thought that we Tanner children gave homemade sugar cookies as valentines because they were less expensive than the ubiquitous boxed kind. (Most choices in our household were filtered through the money lens.) You can imagine my surprise when, as a mother myself, I discovered those sold for about a dollar—even years later!
In typical Tanner fashion, we were made to feel our homemade goodies were somehow superior to the corny paper valentines. Certainly, they were more delicious. Every February 14, I’d walk to school, carefully balancing my shoebox full of heart-shaped cookies coated with pink buttercream frosting. Then, when the party began and the teacher gave the signal for all the children to begin passing out valentines, I proudly placed a single cookie on the desk of each classmate. With every cookie, I felt pride for a mother who had spent days baking and decorating these confections. Her hard work set me apart as original among my classmates.
I laugh at this now. Times have certainly changed. At their Valentine’s Day parties, my own children seemed to get an unlimited number of heart-shaped cookies, although all of them came from a grocery store. Their cookies were simply refreshments for a party, not actual valentines.
Ironically, Mom’s cookies were not only more expensive but they were also so much more labor intensive than straight-off-the shelf valentines. My poor mother! Out of necessity, she was meticulous about counting costs to the penny, so at some point she must have realized buying valentines would have been both easier and cheaper. But she had started a tradition with the older children, and she knew if she stopped, we younger ones would have given her grief then and for years to come.
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I'm the twelfth of 13 children. I was born into a poor family living in a big house on top of a hill in South Pasadena, California. We called it Tanner Manor, and these are my stories of growing up there.