Sneaky and unpredictable were two words no one would ever have applied to my mother.
Edith Purvis was the consumate example of a ministers wife. She was very aware that she and her family were always under the wary eyes of the church and community. Since we always lived in small communities, everyone knew who the preachers kids were. She tried to keep us inside a set of guidelines for behavior.
One year when I was about 17 years old and a junior at Valley Falls High School, my mom had some photographs developed. When she got the pictures back, she found that one of them had been taken of me. The film had been badly developed and the entire picture had a green color to it. I looked like I was standing in front of a giant green light. I was making a sort of funny stunned look with my eyes bugged out. It wasn’t a serious pose at all. In fact, it was embarrassing.
Mom showed me the picture and laughed. She then said I must have been green with envy that day because my picture turned out green. I didn’t find it nearly as funny as she did and told her she should just throw the green picture in the trash. I then walked away as she continued to giggle at the green picture. I soon forgot about it.
Mom was quiet, yet friendly when in public. She tried to make sure that her kids behaved and didn’t do anything which would reflect badly on dad or the church. Mom was pretty strict on many things, but would surprise me from time to time. She was always humble and never did or said anything to draw attention to herself or her kids.
I grew up, as many of you did, celebrating Valentines Day on February 14th of each year. This is the day when people give cards and and gifts to their boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife, telling them how much they loved them.
Valentines Day is a tough day for people, especially young men, who are embarrassed by the idea of professing their love for a girl in a public setting. In high school, when you are in your teens, you might tell your girlfriend how you feel in the seclusion of the back seat of your car, but not in front of your school mates. This was an invitation to ridicule and teasing by the other “guys” you went to school with.
As proof of this I will refer you to the musical and movie, Grease. In that story, John Travolta falls for Olivia Newton-John during the summer break, but when he gets back to school he has trouble acting like he loves her because it isn’t “cool” and his buddies would make fun of him. Unfortunately, many decades later, it still holds true.
My Junior year of high school, I was 17 years old and had a girlfriend named Janet. We were very close and always doing stuff together. She was very special to me and I told her many times how I felt about her. I wasn’t, however, about to say it in front of my friends or in public.
In fact, we got after-school detention a couple times for a rule I didn’t even know existed until we got in trouble for it. Between classes, we would hug, hold hands and get in a kiss here and there. On one particular day we were standing in the stairway of the high school between classes. We were standing with our arms around each other, when the principal, Mr. Wilson, stepped up. He told us we were in trouble for P.D.A. and we would have to stay for after-school detention as punishment.
“That’s right, Purvis… Public Display of Affection. You need to keep 12 inches apart. No more hanging all over each other in the halls.”
Mr. Wilson then walked down the hallway with his tape measure looking for the next couple to apprehend.
Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Wilson was a very reasonable principal. Based on many of my shenanigans in high school, he helped me to graduate in spite of my best efforts to screw up. His secretary was Patty Brown. She was one of the kindest people I’ve ever known. She was always quick with a smile or a friendly ear for a frustrated high school student.
As punishment goes, it wasn’t that bad because Janet and I sat next to each other in detention and passed notes back and forth.
I’m not sure when the secret plan was hatched, but at some point a conspiracy was launched by two of the most unlikely individuals.
I was used to watching out for the normal surprises at school such as locker stacking. That is when you sneak out into the hall during class and open someones locker up. You then stack all their books and stuff on the top shelf in such a way, that when they open the door, the entire contents spill out onto the floor.
You then had to figure out who the culprit was and retaliate in some way.
It was my junior year and I got along with just about everyone at school. I was trying to get ready for upcoming college scholarship applications as well as all the pressures from being in my teens.
I thought I had a good eye on everyone around me and knew who to watch out for.
One afternoon, I got out of class and was walking to my locker when other kids started coming up to me and yelling “Be my Valentine”. Others would yell down the hallway, “Hey Purvis. You don’t look so green now.”
Other girls just looked at me and broke out in laughter as they passed by. I tried to get some of them to tell me what they were talking about, but none of them would. They’d just break into laughter and say “You’ll see!”
After several minutes I made my way down the stairs to the main hallway.
Near the main door was the principals office and across from it was the large main bulletin board where all the school announcements and other displays were posted. It was maintained by the principals secretary.
The principals office had a large window where the secretary could look out into the hall and directly at the bulletin board.
As I entered the hallway, I noticed the secretary looking out the window with a big grin on her face. I then looked at the bulletin board and to my stunned disbelief, I gazed at what everyone in the school were now teasing me about. It was then that I saw it…………. in all it’s embarrassing glory.
Posted in the middle of the bulletin board was a sheet of red paper about 3 foot by 2 foot. It had pink hearts made of construction paper glued all over it with little paper cupids. In big bold letters it said, “John, Don’t be Green. Just be my Valentine. I Love You, Mom.”
In the middle of this poster she had placed an enlarged copy of the picture of me making the funny face with the green tint to it. It must have been at least an 8’x10″ photo. In the moment it seemed HUGE! For all the school to see.
There it was on the main bulletin board at the busiest spot in the school.
I was in shock. Mom was never at the school. She’d never given any indication that she knew it was even Valentines Day, let alone had a plan in the works.
After standing there several minutes and listening to more kids give me a hard time, it slowly sunk in that mom had snuck into the school between classes to put the poster up. She also had to have had the assistance of the secretary.
I had been played by a professional. She had skills I had no idea she possessed.
I took the poster down and hid it under my jacket. I then placed it in my locker. At the end of the day I rolled it up and took it home.
When I walked in the house, mom was cool as a cucumber. She should have been a spy. She showed no signs of anything happening or being afoot.
I acted cool for as long as I could until I just had to say something. At that point I blurted out, “Are you kidding me? Did you really go to the trouble of sneaking into the school and placing that poster on the bulletin board?”
Mom just broke into laughter and said “Don’t be green, be my valentine!”
Well Played, mother…… well played!
I suddenly realized that I should never underestimate my mother. There was no limit to what she would do to show how much she loved me……… Even a secret mission to embarrass the daylights out of me.
If that isn’t love, then I don’t know what is.
Happy Valentine’s Day!