By Ken Lass
It’s not even clear who this romantic day is named after. There are murky accounts of three different men named Valentine, all of whom were storied to have been martyred by the Romans back in the third century, and later canonized by the Catholic church as saints. You can pick your favorite legend. There’s several of them out there. The one I like best has Valentine being a priest who was forbidden by the military to perform marriages. The idea being that single men would make better soldiers. However, being a hopeless romantic, Valentine continued to perform weddings in secret, uniting countless love-struck couples. When he was found out, Valentine was executed.
Makes a good story. No telling if it’s true. Anyway, the Valentine’s Day tradition really exploded when the Hallmark company popularized the greeting card in 1913. Ah, but true love, and mass commercialism, soon rendered a mere greeting card inadequate. The occasion became an opportunity, some think even an obligation, for lovers (read men) to display their sincere affection with some sort of unique gift or experience.
This quickly became problematic for me, not being the most creative or romantic person in the world. My idea of changing things up is to switch to a dozen tulips instead of roses. Candy? Who needs that? We’re always watching our weight and sugar intake. My taste in stuff like jewelry or clothing is a non-starter. If I were to buy her a sweater, she would flash me a big smile, a heart felt thank-you, and a peck on the cheek. Whereupon the sweater would be hung up in the deepest and darkest recesses of her bedroom closet, never to be seen again, until enough time went by for her to dispose of it discreetly.
Around year thirty-two or so, I decided it was time to truly surprise her with something unexpected, although I had no clue what that might be. At the time, I was doing the morning drive radio show on WDJC, so I opted to go on the air and solicit suggestions for a Valentine gesture that was out of the ordinary. The audience was very forthcoming. Some of the ideas were pretty off the wall, like take her parachute jumping. Parachute jumping? I don’t even like to step on a stool to check the smoke detector.
One recurring idea was the ancient tradition of washing feet. Several women callers chimed in to say their husbands would get down on the floor with a basin of warm water, a wash rag, and a tube of oil. They washed the feet of their bride, and then massaged in the oil. All of the women said they regarded this as exceptionally romantic.
I was intrigued enough to do a little research. I found that the washing of feet was a common practice in both the secular and religious communities back in the day. It was considered a polite and humble way to greet guests and honor them. And of course, there are several references in the Bible. For example, John 13 states ” Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
Well, if it was good enough for Jesus, it was certainly good enough for me. So that year, on Valentine’s Day, after our dinner at Sneaky Pete’s, (no apple pie), I told Sharon to have a seat on the sofa. I disappeared momentarily into the hall bathroom, and reappeared with my basin, rag, oil and towel. She looked at me quizzically. I think she thought I was going to give the dog a bath in the living room. I carefully removed her shoes and told her I was going to wash her feet as an expression of my love.
After checking to see if there was alcohol on my breath, she went along with it, trying her best not to giggle as I somewhat clumsily tried to work around her toes and ankle bone. No doubt her favorite part was the oil massage. That’s when she eased back and flashed a smile of contentment. She clearly enjoyed the gesture and that made me happy. When I finished, not only was she pleased, but her feet looked and smelled great! In fact, I was reluctant to put her shoes back on. Pardon me for wanting to admire my work for a bit. All in all, it turned out to be a pretty neat moment. I recommend it to any husband in search of a new Valentine’s Day idea.
Afterward, as we huddled warmly next to each other on the sofa, I remembered that some of those radio callers remarked that it’s even better if you and your spouse wash each other’s feet. I chose not to suggest that. No sense pushing my luck.