BRENDA BLISS PHOTO
Valentine’s Day, Norfolk, England. The child squeals and runs down the hall, excitedly opens the door. No one is there. (The expected visitor, Jack Valentine, has never actually been seen.) A brown paper bag sits on the porch. Penny treats and toys! (If, instead of Jack, the knocker is Old Father Valentine or Old Mother Valentine, the parents hold back the child, allowing escape.)
Saint Valentine was the original Secret Valentine. Legend and church history agree (mostly) that Claudius II banned marriage in 3rd-century Rome, wanting his soldiers single and single-minded. A priest named Valentine married couples in secret, aided persecuted Christians, was jailed for treachery, healed blindness in the daughter of his trial judge, saw the conversion of the grateful judge and his 44-member family, and before his execution left the girl a cheery note signed, “From your Valentine.”
Jack Valentine, Saint Valentine. Secret visitors! Any time of year, Valentine-y somebodies make mysteries and slip away.
Who knew that Sherry and I wanted golf clubs for Burt’s birthday? We’d never seen golf clubs at the Goodwill Outlet, but that day Sherry kept coming back to our shopping cart, giggling, bringing golf clubs from all over the store.
After I’d chopped my hair badly and wanted a head cover, and muttered in the car outside the same Outlet, “Maybe a Greek fisherman’s cap,” not knowing exactly what that was, who put the Greek fisherman’s cap on top of that bin?
After Melody — phoning from California — joked about oatmeal boxes (lined with plastic bags, they might be car emergency potties), who put the oatmeal box on the counter in the otherwise tidy house for sale — in Washington?
Who stuck plastic bags into the porch gap? We lived in the cottage owned by my brother Morris and sister-in-law Jacquie. Morris planned to fix the stackable in the porch bump-out, so Burt and I removed stored items — tools, a broom, a bag of plastic bags — and left them out overnight. Next morning, we found the plastic bags stuffed between decking and wall. Someone’s joke?
We laughed and accused Morris, then neighbor Dennis: “You did it!” They claimed innocence.
Maybe crows? We fed scraps to 20 quirky, interactive crows. One took food, long-stepped behind the hydrangeas, and ate there. One left shells in patterns on our paths. One youngster bigger than the grownups scrambled after his parents, screeching to be fed, gaping his jaws in their faces, trampling food he could have eaten. When an injured crow flopped into the yard, others hovered, called out, and brought food. Two flattened themselves before the ailing crow — beak to beak. When it died, Burt carried it in a shovel to the rear fence and dug a hole. Several crows paced behind him, then flew to the shed. Twenty crows sat on the roof, motionless, for a long time.
Or Douglas squirrels? They lived under our porch. They might use plastic bags as wind guards. But how did they tuck them in? One squirrel above, another below? Push-pull?
Who knew I needed help on that cliff? I’d driven Mom and the kids into the hills to see a house being built. Turning around, I hit loose dirt. The Vanagan hung over the road 10 feet below. Shaking, praying, I got everyone out. Va-room! Up drove a goggled man on a motorcycle. He offered help. I gave him my keys. He took two planks from a pile, jammed them under the rear tires, eased backward onto the planks, parked on solid ground, returned the keys, got on his motorcycle, and left.
Who zipped Burt around the planet after the car crash, in darkness poked with pinlights, saying he would work in these far places, but now he must go back, warn the EMTs how to lift him — “Watch the spleen!” — and find his shoes laid across his ankles, laces tied to make a bridge?
And who knew about the nesting tables? The Calcutta guesthouse was open to salespeople in the halls, and for days the kids and I had said no thanks to a smiley man selling carvings. Finally, I gave in. I bought nesting tables too big to haul around (more countries, more aid stations) and too expensive. One hundred dollars! That evening, while the kids played games in the main room, I back-flopped on my bed, still dressed, and wailed in silence, telling God how stupid I felt. Knock-knock-knock. A Chinese boy handed me an envelope: “From Mr. Lee.” Mr. Lee, businessman, World Vision supporter, had taken us to a circus that day. He knew nothing about my purchase. The envelope held $100 in U.S. bills.
This morning, a new mystery. In the dark before sunrise, in heavy rain and wind, the shore pine is bobbing crazily. With every bob, tiny lights in the branches blink off and on. Charming! Reflections of rain? Of lights down the street?
Nope. They’re angel-messages. “Hi!” “I see you!” “You happy?”