Sunday, February 14, 2016



I celebrated Valentine's Day, sort of, by chuckling through the Peanuts movie and trying to ignore the memories of my days as a skinny orphan when teachers announced who got the most Valentines in the class.
I am not a politically correct fan but it is nice that in the decades since my days of schools that the maiden teachers of the junior grades have smartened up enough to see how hurtful it is when they ask who got the most Valentines as they polled the class.
I can't remember my Grade One count when I imagine that my sisters Joyce and Joanne loyally found some battered Valentines for me and I recycled them.
Although Valentines really only cost pennies then - the greeting card industry hadn't yet the gouging tactics of banks - we three could only afford to erase the pencilled names and reuse them. Fortunately no one signed with the leaky fountain pens, and ballpoint pens hadn't yet been invented.
So all I needed on Feb. 14 was a good eraser and the tolerance of the other boys and girls who I am sure knew that the Downings were just giving back the cards we had received the previous years.
The Peanuts movie, just like the strip did in its days of glory, charmed me with its cute imagery and Walter Mitty daydreaming. For me there never was a red-haired girl like the one in real life that the cartoonist Charles Schultz never forgot, and made a fortune out of remembering, but there are so many skits that remind me of the perils,  frustrations, nervousness and surprise test nightmares of growing up shy that it is a glorious carpet ride of memories back to the days before I succeeded, sort of.
The Peanuts strip was so popular at the late and lamented Telegram that we put it in a special spot away from the comic page. When I noticed that some people at the outdoor newspaper stands (that have vanished thanks to the punitive policies of city council) just picked up the Tely, flipped to the strip and then put the paper back, I suggested we move it around each day. I was just a kid editor then, so I was ignored. Besides, the brass didn't want to tempt fate by doing anything different with Peanuts.
I am amazed that some people (like my wife) just don't appreciate  Peanuts. Just as there were some who didn't like Pogo which gave us the Sadie Hawkins tradition along with some wonderful satirical bits on American politics. And the great line peering into the mirror: "I have seen the enemy and he is us."
I only found out about Mary's indifference to the pearls among the comics after I married her a year and a week after I first saw her. It wouldn't have been a deal breaker because I do have a romantic side, although the family disagrees. Mary does too. For our first Valentine's Day, I gave her a bottle of  No 5 Chanel.  Took half of my pay as a cub reporter. All these decades later, I am still not sure whether Mary really likes that perfume but I suspect there's a chance she doesn't and won't say that so she won't hurt me.
One nice Valentine tradition for Toronto is the annual Valentine gala that raises money at $500-a-plate for the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons.  There have been 32 of them and give people a chance to have a great evening and a chat with some leaders and athletes that the foundation has honoured.
For example, this year my son Mark and I sat with Chris Williamson, who has retired as a blind alpine skier after winning a gold, silver and two bronze in several paralympics, and a gold and two bronze in world competition.
It certainly is a humbling experience because it brings you back to reality with a crash. After all, the people honoured by the foundation, like my old friend David Onley - whom I first met as a political researcher 40 years ago  -  started life facing more hurdles and serious problems than whether they could find a clean enough Valentine to send to the quiet blonde in the corner.

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