With the giving and getting of gifts growing to a crescendo in late December, it is to many a glass of cold water in the face when the merriment suddenly gives way to a bleak long winter with scarcely a box or a bow in sight. The people of Norwich, a city on England’s east coast, a couple of centuries ago found a way to keep on giving by elevating February 13, St. Valentine’s Eve to a Christmas-like celebration.
According to an 1862 account, this Victorian tradition was evidently peculiar to Norwich: visitors to the city were often puzzled to find the shop windows crammed with gifts in early February and newspapers full of advertisements for ‘Useful and Ornamental Articles Suitable for the Season’ available from local retailers.
As soon as it got dark on St. Valentine’s Eve, the streets were swarming with folks carrying baskets of treasures to be anonymously dropped on doorsteps throughout the city. They’d deposit a gift, bang on the door, and rush away before anyone inside could reach the door. Indoors there were excited shrieks and shouts, flushed faces, sparkling eyes and laughter, a rush to the door, examination of the parcels.
Practical jokers were everywhere as well, ringing doorbells and running off, leaving mock parcels that were pulled away by string when someone attempted to pick them up. Large parcels that dwindled to nothing as the recipient fought through layer after layer of wrapping, and even larger parcels containing live boys who would jump out, steal a kiss, and run away.
As with most holidays that involve children out after dark and mischief, the celebration of St. Valentine’s Eve fell out of favor, to be replaced by the Hallmark-inspired and saintless Valentine’s Day.
No Valentine, This One
Hal Foster had been drawing the Tarzan comic strip based on the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs for several years, but itched to create his own original strip. He began work on a feature called Derek, Son of Thane, set in Arthurian England. Before the strip had its coming out party on February 13, 1937, it had gone through a couple of name changes, first to Prince Arn and eventually to Prince Valiant.
Prince Valiant was five years old when his story began, a continuous story that has been told through 4,000 Sunday episodes. Without a whole lot of deference to historical accuracy, Val’s adventure’s take him throughout Europe, Africa, the Far East and even the Americas in a time frame covering hundreds of years. He does battle with Huns, Vikings, Sorcerers, witches and a slew of monsters from prehistoric to modern, but always big.
Foster drew the strip until 1971 and wrote the continuity until 1980. Since then, other artists have kept it alive. Foster died in 1982, at age 89.
Fore, I mean duck
Golf is thought of as relatively safe sport. But for the safety of others, there are just some people who should not be allowed on a golf course. Vice President Spiro Agnew had the dubious distinction of beaning not just one but three spectators on this day in 1971 during the Bob Hope Desert Classic. On his very first drive, he sliced into the crowd for a two-bagger, bouncing off a man to nail his wife as well. On his next shot, he hit a woman, sending her to the hospital. The previous year, Agnew had managed to hit his partner in the back of the head.
Sweet Sugar Cane, Part 2: Roll Out the Barrel
“They were drinking from this barrel of rum?”
“They weren’t, and that was odd. They’d take a drink from a bottle then pour the rest of it into the barrel until it was filled to the brim.”
“And how is it that there is a barrel of rum in your kitchen?” the judge asked.
“They were drinking and making strange talk. ‘Kind of scrawny,’ says the one. ‘Not so much as you’d think,’ says the other. ‘I’d say not over 120 pounds,’ says the one. ‘You’d be surprised,’ says the other. ‘Ready?’ says the one. ‘Ready,’ says the other. Then they stand up and stagger toward me. ‘How much do you weigh?’ says the one. And when I refused to tell them, they were happy about it. Grinning like drunk crocodiles. And the one takes me by the head and the other by the feet and they lift me off the ground. ‘Stop, let me down,’ I shouted. Napoleon just says, ‘Hush, it’ll be all right.’ ‘Take her shoes off,’ says the other. ‘And her dress.’ ‘We’ll make allowance for the dress,’ says Napoleon. I start screaming, and they dump me into the barrel of rum, right up to my neck.” She shook a fist at the defendants and shouted: “You assassins. I want you hung.”
“Please, Mrs. Napoleon,” soothed the judge. “I know this is very trying, but if you could continue.”
“I’ll try,” sobbed Mrs. Napoleon. “I was right up to my neck in rum. And Rollo says ‘I guess we’re set.’ And Napoleon, the fiend, says ‘oh no, we’ve got to count her head.’ ‘Well, push it in then,’ says Rollo. And Napoleon pushed my head down and rum came into my nose and I knew I’d breathed my last and he kept pushing until my head was completely under and I saw the good Lord beckoning me and I said a last prayer that both of my murderers would rot in Hell and suddenly they pulled me out and I ran screaming into the night all soaked in rum like I was the one who was drunk. I ran to the station and told the policeman what had happened. At first he didn’t believe me, thought I was drunk, but finally he followed me back. And there we found Napoleon and Rollo going at each other like a couple of wild animals, shouting about how many bottles of rum there were and how much that much rum should weigh. The policeman hauled them away and that’s the last I know.” She sat down exhausted but triumphant, and in what should have been a somber moment, the spectators, who had been giggling throughout, broke into loud laughter.
Sweet Sugar Cane is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.