I don’t really hate Valentine’s Day.
I pretend that I do. I’ve spent the last 29 years sending Presidents Day flowers to my wife because I’d rather not be forced to say I love you. I do love her. Absolutely. But, if I’m honest about it, I like Presidents Day better than Valentine’s Day.
This is partly a function of who I am, someone prone to sprinting down rabbit holes at awkward moments.
There’s this recurring conversation in our marriage, that I don’t talk much about my feelings unless cornered. When this happens, a little voice inside my head asks what I can add to this topic. It usually answers, “You’re on your own, pal.”
That’s when I might wonder just how muddy Abraham Lincoln’s shoes got when he walked from the train station in Annapolis to catch a steamship in February 1865.
Did I mention we get Monday off for Presidents Day?
Despite any misgivings, I am obligated to write about Valentine’s Day today because a quirk of the calendar landed my column on Feb. 14. It’s either that or I missed the liberal news media conspiracy conference call when Joe Biden was doling out assignments.
I should start by saying that Annapolis is a place that knows how to turn a buck on love, or that it is a very romantic spot. The two are equally true and how you see it depends on who you are. The little city on the Chesapeake Bay is what people in the trade call a wedding destination.
You can tell this because there isn’t a posh space available in May or June until 2024. Well, that’s not entirely true. There is one day in May available this year at the William Paca House and Garden, an odd occurrence. May is the month of new Navy ensigns and Marine lieutenants rushing to get married right after the Naval Academy graduation.
Love is such an important part of the city’s fabric that Historic Annapolis, which runs the historic Georgian mansion, recently held a love story competition. The winners are both 2017 academy graduates who will get married in June.
It’s cheaper if you get married at the Anne Arundel County Courthouse, but don’t run down there with heart-shaped dreams in your eyes this afternoon.
Scott Poyer, the clerk of the court, and his assistant clerks will officiate at as many as 19 weddings today in their modest little chapel, four more than a year ago. He’s maxed out on love today.
That won’t prevent him from telling stories about it. There was a couple that recently got married in the chapel with their grandkids in the audience. COVID made them decide it was time to just put a ring on it.
You can quantify love. Poyer’s office granted 4,573 marriage licenses last year, up from 4,331 the year before. The courthouse in Annapolis recorded 1,708 divorces in 2022.
It cost me about 10% more than last year to send Presidents Day flowers to my wife this year, about $120. In 1998, about five years into our marriage, it was $50. On Monday, the online price for a dozen roses at my neighborhood flower shop was $139.
That’s not the point, though is it? It’s about feelings, not the economy of horticultural gifts.
Valentine’s Day is a day for bad poetry. Here’s part of one bad poem that ran Feb. 20, 1722 in the “Poetry Corner” of the Maryland Gazette, the weekly newspaper of Colonial Annapolis.
“My dearest Delia, in thy choice
“And straight do thou a mate select
“Like them obeying nature’s voice
“Then will they generous hear approve
“His flame, who most deserve thy love,
“So shalt thou never of the Choice repent
“Nor grieve, but at thy hours quickly spent.”
Let me wipe that from your mind with this. I think you’d have to look far to find better poetry than that written by Grace Cavalieri of Annapolis.
“It’s a little thing. Could be
“the long o’s in Kosovo, or
“alone in the street
“after the hurricane
“Perhaps we tell of a child
“beneath the flood
“in New Orleans, or
“feet bloody from
“walking the rubble
“They say poetry is
“insignificant, such a tiny voice
“no one can hear.
“Sometimes it says
“ ‘I can’t breathe.’
“That’s why we write of such
“little things, insignificant things.”
Poetry still runs rampant on Valentine’s Day. Most people are more likely to resort to music for an expression of their feelings.
Pink Martini and China Forbes are ringing in my head with “Amado Mio” while I’m writing this — just how many voices are up there?
I asked my colleagues at The Baltimore Banner what they hear when someone says love songs, and the response was just as varied as you would expect.
There was “Love Story” by Taylor Swift, Anita Baker’s “Giving You the Best That I Got,” and “The Louvre” by Lorde, then “Confession of Love” by the bands, Kaiser George & The Hi-Risers and “Gimme What You Got” by Grammy-winning blues man Keb’ Mo’ (who was in Annapolis Monday night). Then there was “Bless the Telephone” by Labi Siffre, one I’d never heard before Monday.
Each of us has our own love story, and that’s worth sharing today.
I love that I met my wife in a basement beer bar in Annapolis, and I can see her standing there in that yellow and white striped, knit dress just as clearly as I did on Sunday when she was installing a new medicine cabinet in our bathroom (although she wasn’t in the same outfit). I love that she gets the joke behind years of Presidents Day flowers.
I love watching my daughter and son build lives for themselves. I hope they enjoy Presidents Day shirts I sent them, emblazoned with images of Lincoln and George Washington.
It’s not just who you love, but what you love, too.
I love walking with the sun on my face. I love the sound the wind makes when it rips through the trees as it heads across the Chesapeake Bay. I love the fox’s scream outside my window at night, and the honk of geese each morning on the creek down the street.
I love my dogs, even though one limps from arthritis now and the other wants to endlessly lick my face as I put on his leash for a walk.
I love Annapolis. Because you can tie just about anything to it, including Presidents Day and Valentine’s Day.
Lincoln, whose marriage to Mary was famously difficult, never came to Annapolis for Valentine’s Day. That trip in 1865 was on Feb. 2 and was really just a way he could get to a Civil War peace conference in Virginia without much notice.
But Washington, who had a much happier marriage, did spend Feb. 14 here in 1757.
He was a colonel in the Virginia militia, the year Martha’s first husband died. The bachelor from Virginia stayed with Daniel Wolstenholme, a royal official who helped outfit militia groups during the French and Indian War.
The trip was almost certainly not about love. That fall, Washington marched with a British force back to the modern-day site of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. That was the area where many historians believe the young militia leader started the French and Indian war in 1754. The British finally forced the French out, but Washington had dysentery for most of the winter.
Not a romantic story.
But then again, I did warn you about my penchant for rabbit holes.
Happy Presidents Day.