By Harriet P. Gross
Last Sunday, on Valentine’s Day, a dear friend returned something to me that I’d given to her many years ago on the same occasion: a yellowed bit of newsprint, four-and-a-half lines of one standard column, taped down on a pierced, heart-shaped, pink paper doily. It reads:
“When the coffee is hot, and the talk is good, and the feeling is easy, and the laughter is light, and the memories are many but the time is too short, you know you are with a friend.”
I wonder where I first got that. I wonder if maybe I wrote it myself, part of an old column in an old paper in my personal “olden days.” It rings nicely, and I do hope it’s my original work. But even though I pride myself on having an exceptionally good memory, I’m not sure about this. And journalism has taught me an important lesson: If you fall in love with something you’ve put down on paper, do a search to make sure it isn’t the product of someone else — something you read or heard and liked so much, you stored it up in your brain, and now you’ve pulled it out and are on the dangerous verge of using it without attribution!
Well, today I use Google, so the searches are faster. But sometimes I still can’t find what I’m looking for. That’s the case here. So I may never be sure about who wrote this little sentence that meant so much to my friend, she saved it for several decades before returning it to me.
Valentine’s Day brought me a poem, too, from another friend. Actually, it’s “verse,” well below the standards of recognized “poetry.” My daughter, who’s not at all fond of standard greeting card rhymes, would call this a “de dum de dum” offering, and she’d be right. But the friend who sent this is as much a sucker for sweet things as my clipping friend is for sentiment. So here is Emily Matthews’ “Poem for You”:
“A lifetime of love in a hug and a smile,
A reason to visit and stay for a while —
The strength of a bond that’s destined to last,
The joys of the present, the warmth of the past —
These are the treasures a fortunate few
Are lucky to cherish all their lives through.
These are the blessings on which we depend,
For these are the gifts of a very good friend.”
Every Valentine’s Day, I look at my Feb. 14 gift from a very good friend ‘way back when we were sentimental high school students together, fancying ourselves a pair of well-read “intellectuals.” It’s a beautiful copy of “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam,” certainly not the work of a “de dum de dum” versifier. Inside the front cover, she inscribed the start of a William Butler Yeats poem (its title is its first four words):
“When you are old and gray and full of sleep
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep…”
Yeats was a real poet, which is why his words continue to speak to me as I get older and grayer and need more sleep, and slowly reread the words given to me so many years ago by a true friend who didn’t live long enough herself to lose that soft look and the deep shadows of unfulfilled promise in her young, jet-black eyes.
I think it’s fine for Jews to mark Valentine’s Day, even though it’s named for a lovesick someone who later became a Christian saint. It’s a nice day for giving and receiving chocolates, sharing a delicious dinner and some good wine with someone who really matters to you, laughing with little kids as they delightedly send and receive the silly little holiday cards made especially for them.
But I myself prefer hearts and flowers. Which is why I’m now saving the pierced pink paper heart with its border of cut-out flowers, on which my friend hand-wrote the following above the friendship clipping: “Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, I’m recycling this message I received from you! Happy Valentine’s Day!” I’ve tucked it into my “Rubaiyat,” to reread each year — until I decide it’s time to send it back again. After all, neither of us is getting any younger…
(And if you happen to know where that clipped friendship quote comes from, please let me know!)