It was our first Valentine’s Day. We had met the spring before, at a contra dance, but we lived four hours apart: he in Johnson City; I in Chapel Hill. The day we met, I hadn’t thought we were possible, mostly because dating him would break two of my rules—Don’t date anyone long-distance and Don’t date contra dancers (both written after being burned). Plus, at the end of the day we met, after we had spent a lot of time talking, he had waved and smiled as he drove off in his truck, and I had thought, “No one can be that nice. I wonder what’s wrong with him.”
But, of course, there was nothing wrong with him. I was the fraidy cat. Eventually, I got over my fears, and we talked again, we met up at dances, and we became a thing—a really great thing, I might add.
Then it was February. Though we were not engaged, we had already started looking for rings. What would he get for me on Valentine’s Day to show his love?
I’ve always liked Valentine’s Day, but I’ve also felt it is one of those pressure-filled holidays, like New Year’s Eve, where you are supposed to be doing something terribly fun and romantic.
Here is how I had spent the Valentine’s Day the year before: At Elmo’s Diner in Durham, North Carolina, eating dinner in a booth with three friends in the most unromantic but lively setting. We probably talked about love, but I remember mostly talking about careers, and my particular state of affairs: being unemployed. I was telling my friends I had been applying for jobs but had yet to land any interviews, and I was puzzled because I was perfectly qualified for these jobs. My friend said, “Maybe you’re not ready to go back to work.” After all, I had been in my most recent job for eight years, and I was burned out and needing a break. Still, his comment startled me: it hadn’t occurred to me that life was bringing me exactly what I needed when I was ready for it, going at my pace, whether I realized it or not.
And so, back to where we started: it was Valentine’s Day, my first with this particular boyfriend who verged on becoming a fiancé. We decided, instead of one of us driving to see the other, we would meet somewhere halfway: Hickory, North Carolina. We didn’t go dancing or dress up, and we didn’t have a lavish dinner. We ate at a Ruby Tuesday’s, and we were happy to be sitting across from each other, without four hours and a state line between us. When it was time to exchange gifts, he chose the most romantic of spots—out in the hotel parking lot. For our first Valentine’s Day, he gave me . . . not a bouquet of flowers, not a ring but a . . . a crock pot.
Here’s the part in the story where I’m supposed to feel all deflated because the man didn’t buy me roses or candy, but here’s what happened: I loved that crock pot. I must have let out a whoop or thrown my arms around him because I had been wanting a crock pot for a long time, and I must have mentioned that to him sometime in the prior months, and he must have remembered.
I think back on all the romantic notions I had about love when I was younger, all the gifts I was given that were more “romantic”—a diamond pendant, a bracelet of gemstones—when I was ready to be swept off my feet, when I believed love meant big gestures, when love was a dazzling sort of thing.
We’ve had that crock pot for years now. It makes a ticking sound when it’s been on all day, and that tells me it’s still working. It doesn’t make anything fancy or delicate, but I know I can count on it for the kind of one-dish meal I like best. I am prone to neglect and forgetfulness, and more than once I have left something on the stove and filled the kitchen with smoke and haze. But when I use the crock pot, it compensates for my failures, or at least ameliorates the outcomes, and I know I can depend on it to make everything better.
Shuly Cawood is a writer and the author of three books, including the forthcoming short story collection, A Small Thing to Want.