Happy Valentine’s Day. ‘Tis the weekend to celebrate our next Hallmark holiday. Regardless of what it has ever meant to me throughout the years, there’s only one memory that races to the front of the line when this day approaches annually. It began Friday, Feb. 8, 1985, an emotional rollercoaster of a day.

I was in my third year of teaching at Rosemount High School. The day began with me more excited than I’d been in years. This would be the day I’d emcee my first pep fest in the gym with over 2,000 students and staff. I was approached to do it after the previous teacher left mid-year for a new school district; all I could think was “Finally!” I had envied this role on the gym floor since day one and wanted badly for my shot at it someday. I hadn’t, however, expected it so quickly.

Pep fests exist for promoting sports. If other activities are brought into the fest, it’s only because it’s convenient. And so it was; in this pep fest, we were promoting the Student Council’s Valentine’s Day dance that would occur that evening in our student center.

I wanted to make this first pep fest of mine memorable, so I brought a record player in the gym with some of my movie soundtracks to add to my planned activities. I wanted to give the school a pep fest unlike any they’d ever seen. Arriving early for a rehearsal, I spoke with the audio-visual guy about my sound needs, and he was most cooperative. I was pumped. And I might add scared out of my mind.

The 20-minute pep fest started, and I crammed into it whatever I could that sports wasn’t filling. When it was over, the kids left for the parking lot, and I slowly floated back to my room. Floated because I was on Cloud 9. I was overwhelmed with personal satisfaction.

The Class of ’86, then juniors, were my biggest fans in the school. When they were freshman, I was a new teacher. All my classes were freshman my first year. Consequently, we formed a special bond. They were as excited for me to do this pep fest as I was to do it, and when it was done, a good number of them were waiting in my room to share their reactions which were that my first pep fest was a success!

It was about 2:40 p.m., 20 minutes after the pep fest had ended, when I received a message to come to the main office for a phone call. I asked the kids to stay. I ran down the flight of stairs, still buzzing from the fest, and picking up the phone from the secretary’s desk, I said, “Hello.” The voice responding was my older brother’s. Our cancer-stricken mom had collapsed in Madison as Dad was helping her out of our van for an appointment. Once inside and several tests later, the news was the worst. Mom wasn’t expected to see her 62nd birthday on March 18.

I picked up my brother that night in River Falls and drove directly to our hometown. The next morning, Feb. 9, he and I drove to Madison where we’d end up saying our last goodbye to Mom. Because there was no way to predict when Mom would leave us, we had no choice but to return to our lives later that day. Our four other siblings lived nearby for Dad.

The several days that followed, including Valentine’s Day, Mom was on my mind 24/7 until she eventually passed on March 7. Each year about now, thoughts of Mom are the strongest until we get past her March 18 birthday.

Thoughts of any love each year at this time go immediately to Mom first. Seems appropriate.

Time’s up! See you next week!