The First Valentine: A Detective’s Daughter Memory

It’s Valentine’s Day again. Not quite as exciting as it once was when I could have all the gluten I wanted and received a box of Rheb’s chocolates. I discovered a very sad thing this morning, Rheb’s chocolates are not gluten free. It’s a depressing day here in Northeast Baltimore for me!

FullSizeRender (32)But long ago in a kingdom called South Baltimore I was given a small heart of chocolates every year on Valentine’s Day. Dad would go to the Rheb’s stand in Lexington Market, where he did all his shopping, and buy hearts for his favorite girls. Mom would receive the largest heart, the top of the satin box covered in ruffles and bows. To his own mother, my Nana, he would give a more conservative box, deep red and no frills. My box was small and held four pieces of chocolate. The heart box was red trimmed in gold and the words Be Mine or Valentine was usually printed across the top.

Though Daddy always brought me a heart shaped box with sweets, I must admit my heart belonged to another man. My grandfather, Pop-Pop, was truly my first love. Daddy had interesting stories, but it was Pop-Pop who was my pal. FullSizeRender (34)

He walked me home from school nearly everyday and was always up for a game of cards or checkers. Once a week we’d ride the transit bus over to Pop-Pop’s sister’s, my Aunt Tootsie, where you never knew what you might find. She took in every stray injured animal in Southwest Baltimore. There was always pigeons {“Dang boys shootin’ them poor creatures.”}, kittens and dogs about to deliver puppies, which was my favorite. Sometimes even turtles or squirrels and once she had a opossum.

Saturday mornings after I went to the market with Mom and Nana I’d go to see Mr. Joe the barber with Pop-Pop. Afterwards we’d walk over to Mr. Palmer’s Bar and Pop-Pop would have a glass of beer while I had a Coke and a box of Mr. Salty pretzel sticks and spun around on the stool until Mr. Palmer yelled, “Hey! Ain’t got no seat belt for that, hon.”

It was Pop-Pop who taught me to sing and to love music. I knew all the words to Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey before I could recite the alphabet. He bought me Tiger Beat magazine and never minded watching soap operas with me. He even watched them and took notes – on paper –  the days I was in school!

Pop-Pop passed away on February 12th, three months before my thirteenth birthday. He had served in the military and had fought during WWII and was the recipient of the Purple Heart. I still have the flag that was draped over his casket.

Today remember all the loves that have graced your life. I’ve been fortunate to have an abundance of love and kindness in mine. I hope you each have had a Pop-Pop in your life. His sweetness will be remembered long after my memory of chocolate fades away.

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Kimberly Kurth Gray

Kimberly Kurth Gray is the 2009 winner of the William F. Deeck/ Malice Domestic grant for unpublished writers and a Hruska Fellowship finalist as well as a Wellstone Emerging Writer Fellowship winner. In addition to blogging, she is the author of several short stories, the latest Tidings of Comfort and Joyce can be found in the second Mindful Writers anthology, Over the River and Through the Woods.,

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