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Stefanie Pettit: One Valentine’s Day gift still close to my heart

Valentine’s Day has been a problem for the 50 years my husband and I have known each other.

It was tougher the four years we were dating, when those valentine gestures seemed an important part of the courting ritual. What does the gift mean? Is it enough? Too much? And for the 46 years we’ve been married, when gestures are less important but not a bad idea to pay at least some attention to, they are still such a struggle for him.

And that’s really a shame because he’s gotten the big things just right. Any couple that has been together for a long time knows that the candy and the flowers and all the rest don’t really matter. They are small tokens of something more important, and if the more important base isn’t there, no amount of jewelry or gestures can put it there.

What Bruce is exceptionally good at is being there. He is a rock-solid man who has stood by me through some tough stuff, who has understood me when I didn’t understand myself and who has never let me down. Ever. And that is more important than anything.

Still, it is fun to join in on the valentine’s festivities with a special little surprise, and I wish I could make it easier for Bruce to figure out what seems like such a simple thing for everyone else. And I just don’t know how to help him because, frankly, he’s just not wired to pick up on subtle clues (I’ve tried), and entering a department store looking for inspiration will cause him to break out in hives.

Sure, he could buy candy or some flowers, and sometimes he does, but he wants to do something that carries greater meaning, something that expresses feeling from a deeper place. What is sweet is that he is still trying, but what he doesn’t realize is that he’s really already done it. And frankly, it’s got him covered for the rest of our lives.

One year, after struggling and struggling, he triumphed. It was 1985, and he crafted for me a valentine’s heart. He had an old piece of mild steel and took a cutting torch to it to shape it into a heart and also cut out a base for the heart to stand on. Then, using a stick welder he put our initials on one side and the date on the other, also welding the heart to the base. He wrapped it nicely and presented it to me on Valentine’s Day.

I was so surprised at how heavy the gift was and wept when I opened it.

Years later I asked him what made him create the heart, and he answered, “desperation.”

The actual day of hearts and flowers is a small day for us. We do funny cards for each other. Sometimes it’s mushy cards. Maybe a little box of candy. And occasionally we decide to go out for dinner. And when we do, I usually bring up the idea early and follow through on the reservation. It has happened in the past that the idea of going out to dinner at a nice restaurant occurred to him at about 3 p.m. on Feb. 14, and he thought we’d actually be able to be seated before midnight. Did I mention that he really is a sweet man?

But as I said, when it comes to material gestures to memorialize our affection, particularly after all these years together, we really do know what’s important and what isn’t. Even so, if ever we were notified that our house was in peril from, say, sliding down a hill or being in the path of a raging fire and we were given one minute to gather important things before abandoning it, I know what I’d do.

I go snatch up the photo albums from our children’s growing-up years and then make a mad dash to the bathroom at the back of the house where, on the window ledge between pictures of our sons, stands a rough-hewn steel heart that I can see every morning as I brush my teeth.

I’d grab it, hold it close and run for my life.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at Previous columns are available at