Columnist John Paradis: ‘Love will find a way’

  • This Monday, Feb. 6, 2017, photo taken in Hopkinton, N.H., shows Valentine's Day cards decorated with handmade stamps. Depending on the method, making your own stamps can be an easy and inexpensive way to customize cards. (AP Photo/Holly Ramer) Holly Ramer

Published: 2/14/2020 8:11:11 AM
Modified: 2/14/2020 8:10:59 AM

I was in third grade and it was Valentine’s Day. A very shy girl named Lisa gave me a card. Back in the early 1970s, getting a card from one of your classmates was a ritual. We had cards for everyone — those were the rules. So Lisa’s card was one of 20 other cards sitting at my desk.

Most were store bought with cartoon and television characters from our generation. I remember Scooby-Doo, Josie and the Pussy Cats and GI Joe.

But when I opened Lisa’s card, it stopped me. I read three words on the card and then looked up to the row where Lisa sat and she was looking at me. No expression on her face. She looked nervous.

The card was addressed to me. “I love you” said her card.

In the ‘70s, those were words you didn’t read on a card in grade school or even hear — at least not in my conservative Catholic upbringing.

Sure, I never doubted that my parents deeply cared for me and that I was loved. It was just those three words — they were not part of the baby boomer vocabulary in my family or neighborhood.

I didn’t know how to react and so I didn’t. In fact I probably did the cruelest thing any school boy could do when a girl says such a courageous thing; I ignored her.

At home at dinner that night my mother, herself a second-grade teacher, asked me about my Valentine’s Day. With an older brother next to me, there was no way I was going to say anything about Lisa’s card.

But that night as my mom came to my room to say good night, I showed her Lisa’s card.

“Oh, John,” she said. “That is so sweet. She must have a crush on you.”

That was it? A “crush.” I didn’t know what that meant but it made me feel funny.

A few months later, that spring, while on the school playground, I discovered that running full speed while trying to catch a baseball in mid-air next to metal bleachers can have devastating consequences.

I knocked myself out. I don’t remember the ambulance ride to the hospital, but I heard afterward that I created quite a spectacle that day — blood everywhere.

I missed a few days of school and had a bunch of stitches on my head. My brother called me Frankenstein.

But on my first day back at school, all my classmates welcomed me. But one, “Lisa with the crush,” ran up to me and hugged me. And then she cried.

I hugged her back. A big smile came over my face. I turned as red as the Valentine’s Day card she had given me.

Then the other kids started to laugh and the teasing began.

I’m ashamed to say this but I didn’t return any of the affection this wonderful 8-year old-girl had afforded me. I wasn’t mean. I was indifferent.

I broke her heart and for that I am sorry.

A few years later my family moved and I went to a different school but I still thought of Lisa and that card and that hug.

Then in high school, I turned my eyes toward a blonde-haired girl with amazing blue eyes. The best part — she was really smart and really nice.

We were in the same history class my junior year when I knew there was something really special about Denise. But I wasn’t in her universe — at least so I thought.

In my senior year, we shared the same study block where we were both in the school library.

On Valentine’s Day in high school in 1981, you most certainly didn’t send Valentine’s Day cards to your classmates.

This time, I was the one staring at the classmate from across the room but I was too nervous to ask her out.

Finally a few weeks later I asked her to the senior prom but I was far too late — she already had a boyfriend, she said. “Of course,” I said.

After the prom, a mutual friend noticed that I was staring at “the library girl” named Denise a whole lot and invited us both to a swim party. Except when I arrived at the house, it was just me, Denise and our friend.

“John, don’t you have something you want to say?” said our friend.

I asked Denise out that night. She said yes. She broke up with her boyfriend.

By the middle of the summer, I told her I loved her. Five years later we married. Thirty three years more and two children and eight household moves thanks to the United States Air Force and I’m still crazy in love with her.

And I say “I love you so much” to her every day. Several times a day. And she always says, “I love you so much” back. There is no greater joy and happiness.

This Valentine’s Day — don’t be shy. Tell that special person from across the room that they are special.

And if you’re the object of their affection, take a chance. You never know where serendipity will take you.

Love will find its way.

John Paradis, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, lives in Florence and writes a column published the second Friday of the month. He can be reached at

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