Saturday, February 14, 2009

My Valentine's Day Tale

I've never been married. I have no "significant other." Valentine's Day is always just another day around my apartment — although I will admit that it always seems to be appropriate when it comes after a Friday the 13th, as it did this year.

Anyway, I started thinking about the history of St. Valentine's Day as this year's holiday approached. I don't know how long St. Valentine's Day has been observed — for centuries, I suppose. There were lots of early Christian martyrs who were named Valentine, but a saint named Valentine became connected — somehow — with romance in the 14th century.

And one doesn't have to spend much time in any store to get an idea how much revenue potential there is in a holiday dedicated to love — even in recessionary times.

I made a short stop at my grocery store the other day, and two people in front of me and one behind me were there to buy heart-shaped candy and heart-shaped boxes filled with candy, a stuffed bear with a big red heart on its chest, Valentine's cards and various other items with a Valentine's theme.

If Valentine's Day didn't already exist, some bright marketer with one of the greeting cards makers would have had to invent it — if a jewelry seller or candy maker or florist didn't beat him to it.

Actually, yesterday I was thinking not of the first St. Valentine's Day but of the one exactly 80 years ago today — when Al Capone and an Italian gang from the south side of Chicago gunned down members of an Irish gang from the north side, led by Bugs Moran. The infamous "St. Valentine's Day Massacre" occurred in a garage.

And I didn't really think much about that day, either, except that I was watching an episode of "M*A*S*H," in which B.J. was trying to arrange for a "reunion" with the families of the staff of the 4077th back in the United States. The idea was for them to gather "at a hotel in New York" on a weekend and share stories about their loved ones in the service — and receive some fellowship and moral support in return.

(At this point, I should mention that maintains capsule reviews on every episode from just about every TV series ever aired — at least, I haven't thought of a series that isn't represented at the site.

(Visitors can assign scores to each episode — once they have registered for a free account — and those scores are re-tabulated each day and the top episodes of each show are ranked.

(The episode of "M*A*S*H" to which I refer, "The Party," currently is rated 12th of all the show's episodes by the site's visitors — one of only four episodes in the Top 12 that was made in the second half of the show's astonishing 11-year run. The other eight in the Top 12 all were made in the first three seasons, when McLean Stevenson was in the cast.)

Anyway, "The Party" doesn't necessarily have any deep messages about love to share with its viewers — only hints or suggestions of the love of parents for their children or the love between spouses, a love that is made stronger by distance and the constant threat of bodily harm.

The staff members write home to ask their families if they will participate in this "reunion" — and, much to the surprise of many, their families agree.

"Parents!" Hawkeye says upon learning that his father will attend and Hot Lips' estranged parents will put aside their differences and reunite for the occasion. "Just when you think you have them figured out, they go and show you how much they love you!"

But B.J. discovers that the actual logistics are more problematic. His original suggestion was a gathering on Valentine's Day, to which Major Winchester, who has made no secret of his disdain for the whole idea, replies, "Perfect! They can meet in a garage in Chicago!"

Valentine's Day didn't work out. Ultimately, they agreed on the date of March 28.

I started wondering if those two dates actually fell on a weekend during the years the Korean War was fought.

The war began in June 1950, when North Korea invaded South Korea, so those dates had already passed by the time America's involvement in Korea began. An armistice was signed in July 1953. So the Valentine's Days that were observed during the Korean War occurred in 1951, 1952 and 1953.

Now, typically, February has precisely four weeks — except in Leap Years, when it gains a day. So the first 28 days of March fall on the same days of the week as the dates in February that have the corresponding numbers.

In other words, Valentine's Day (Feb. 14) will be on the same day of the week as March 14 in most years. In a Leap Year, March 14 will be the next day of the week because four weeks plus one day will separate Feb. 14 and March 14.

And March 28 is precisely two weeks after March 14.

1952 was a Leap Year. And, as it turns out, Valentine's Day was on a Thursday in 1952. Since it was a Leap Year, March 14 (and, therefore, March 28) fell on a Friday.

But it's probably stretching a point to make 1952 the year in question. Most likely it was 1953, when both Valentine's Day and March 28 fell on a Saturday. That allowed enough time for everyone, from Hawkeye's father in Maine to B.J.'s wife in San Francisco — and all the others in between — to congregate in New York and then travel home again before the start of the new week.

Although, logistically, Charles' idea might not have been too bad. New York City was clearly the largest city in America in 1953, but Chicago might have been a more logical destination for most of the attendees — like Klinger's family in Ohio and Radar's mother and uncle from Iowa, even Mrs. Potter in Missouri.

I've been a fan of the series since it was part of the primetime lineup in the 1970s. I don't know where Hot Lips' parents were living at the time of this episode — only that they were estranged. The one thing the show's fans knew about Hot Lips' upbringing was that she was an Army brat who grew up on a series of Army bases and never had a hometown.

Likewise, fans of the series never learned much about Father Mulcahy's family, but they got the impression that, although he came from a large family, they weren't especially close. In the series, Mulcahy was said to have grown up in Philadelphia — although the book upon which the original movie was based had his hometown as San Diego.

The one family member with whom Mulcahy appeared to have an enduring relationship is the one who agreed to attend the party — his sister, who had become a nun. The only clue to her whereabouts with which I am familiar is in an episode about a letter Mulcahy wrote to her, in which he mentioned her transfer to St. Cecilia's church. In reality, there is a church by that name near Philadelphia.

Still, the eagerness with which each family member accepted the invitation indicates that they were all willing to travel great distances to attend, even though some — notably Hawkeye's father and Charles' parents, who were from Boston but implied in their reply that they had been spending the winter in warmer climes, and possibly Mulcahy's sister, if she was still assigned to a church near Philadelphia — didn't have far to travel.

Thus, a more centralized location was not necessary.

The only thing that was necessary was an abundance of love.

And that, I guess, is what Valentine's Day is supposed to be about.