My First Valentine

Dulce Ruelos grew up in a large family in the Philippines. The tradition of Valentine's Day is as strong as in the United States, but the behavior of boys and girls was more formal at that time. Dulce's first Valentine, aptly named Romeo, was a long-time family friend. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol KearnsHis name was Romeo. I knew him very well since I was in the first grade of elementary school. We were neighbors then and his younger sister Mimi was my classmate, playmate, and best friend. My father was the godfather of his youngest sister, Daisy. In third grade his mother, Mrs. Mary del Rosario, was my teacher. During my early grade school years (after World War II) I wanted to go to their house to play with his sisters. At other times, his sisters would come to play at our house. Neither Romeo nor I noticed each other during all this time. Every year in December after the Christmas season, all school children would start to learn and practice folk dances. Then the dances would be performed as entertainment during the annual town fiesta on March 19 in honor of St. Joseph, the town patron saint. I was in fifth grade at the start of these dance practices. I noticed that Romeo picked me as his partner. I felt uncomfortable and self-conscious because he was one grade ahead of me. I expected him to pick someone from his own class, but why me? I also noticed that after practice, held late in the afternoon after class, he would carry my books and walk home with me. I had the feeling that he liked me. He confided to his cousin Judy that he had a "crush" on me. His cousin was amused and thought this was a passing thing which would be forgotten in due time. In the sixth grade, I moved to another town to continue my studies at a private Catholic school. Romeo and his sisters continued their studies at our town public school. There were no seventh or eighth grades at that time, so students went to high school after sixth grade. In high school Romeo and Mimi went to the same town where I was, but attended the public high school. During summer break, all of us would go back to our hometown for vacation. Mimi and I stayed close friends during all of this time. Valentine's Day is much anticipated and eagerly awaited in the Philippines. After Christmas, the Christmas cards and decorations are replaced by Valentine cards displayed in all of the stores. Flower shops also do a good business at this time. I remember a Valentine card from Romeo. It was a large card with a pink satin-embossed heart at the center. The card smelled sweet and although I no longer remember the sentiment expressed, I know it revealed his feelings that he was too shy to say. My cousins found out about this card and would tease me no end about Romeo. In the evenings, Romeo and his friends would walk past my house and would loudly sing "Secret Love" as they went by. After high school, I went to Manila for college. Mimi also attended college in Manila. However, Romeo stayed behind in the province and went to college at a local school. He continued to write letters to me in Manila and I sometimes saw him during semester and Christmas breaks when I went back to our town. We never had a romantic relationship and we each ended up marrying someone else. However, I fondly remember him as my first Valentine.

********** Published: Feb. 13, 2014 - Volume 12 - Issue 44