FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH—and with great respect for the gifted poets and lyricists who’ve tried to define love through the ages—the simple, genuine thoughts on the subject from children and the elderly have left the most memorable impressions with me.
Among their words are several I’ve saved from a long-ago class of fifth-graders at Wright Elementary School in Shelby County, who shared their thoughts on love one Valentine’s Day.
“Love is when your grandfather kisses you goodbye for the last time,” wrote Ashley.
Strider wrote, “Love is when your mom stays home from work when you are sick.”
And Erin said, “Love is when I hold my cat and she falls asleep in my arms.”
Jackie Daffron, who once had a home for orphaned and injured Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls in Monticello, sent a valentine with children’s definitions of love. A little boy named Billy said, “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different.”
Years ago, workers at a Hodgenville nursing home invited me to see their walls lined with paper hearts on Valentine’s Day. Each heart was inscribed with a patient’s name and their brief definition of love.
“Love is a bunch of kids,” said Buck Skaggs.
“Love is God,” said Tilly Schofner.
And 82-year-old Cassie Clay, who was sitting in her wheelchair near a window said, “Love is when you can’t see the rest of your life without someone.”
The love of her life, her husband Owen, had been gone 17 years. She’d loved him from the moment they met, and he was nicer to her than anyone she had ever known. Maybe he wasn’t all that handsome to others, she said, but he was to her, and she could talk with him about anything. He usually gave her roses or candy on Valentine’s Day, and she had saved the heart-shaped candy boxes and cards until she’d had to dispose of them when her property was sold at auction before she came to the nursing home a year earlier.
She wasn’t there during the auction, but the day of the sale she felt the rest of her life was over. What she missed most were the items no one else wanted: the Valentine cards and those empty, heart-shaped candy boxes.
Just down the hall, 80-year-old Hascle Fancher, who had lost his wife Juanita in a fire at their farmhouse shortly before he came to the nursing home, summed up his definition of love with, “Love is all I got left.”
I’ve saved a picture of 102-year-old Sedley and 98-year-old Bunnie Harreld of Ohio County, who were named “Mr. and Mrs. Valentine of 2002” at a Valentine’s Day party in their honor at the Ohio County Senior Center. “Don’t ever go to bed mad,” Sedley advised.
He and Bunnie were married 80 years before they passed away within a few weeks of each other during spring of the following year.
BYRON CRAWFORD is Kentucky’s storyteller—a veteran television and newspaper journalist known for his colorful essays about life in Kentucky.