THANK YOU, MR. VALENTINE

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Saint Valentine

Empyrean Insurance Inc.

LEK (Love's Everlasting Kingdom) Division

& Love Springs, Eternal

Dear Mr. Valentine:

I have recently had an opportunity to experience firsthand the excellent service you provide to lovers. You helped me and my household emerge better off than ever from a series of natural and unnatural disasters. I am mailing you this letter in the late summer of 1990, with the request that it take effect on Feb. 14, 1991. Please add the following information, stamped with your official heart-shaped seal, to my permanent file at LEK. It will, I believe, serve as added protection in the future.

What follows is a chronological account of the week of Aug. 20, 1990. Being the week following my daughter's wedding and the week preceding my return to the full-time academic schedule of Towson State's fall semester, it had been planned as a time of rest and rejuvenation for me and my husband. We're more-or-less newlyweds ourselves: This fact is crucial.

You may recall from other correspondence -- plaintive letters from honeymooners, no doubt -- that the week of Aug. 20 was the week it did not stop raining for even one minute anywhere along the Eastern seaboard. That's why we thought we were having waterlogged nightmares when a brisk, bathroom-showerlike spray of water suddenly began beating down on our bed in the dark hours of the morning of Aug. 20. With wide-open eyes and all the lights on, we found that it was no dream. We shoved the bed a foot or so to the west and placed a series of ever-larger plastic buckets under the spray. They filled brimful within minutes. Finally we found a giant old-fashioned picnic cooler in the cellar and positioned it under the leak.

The cooler was lined with tin; the sound of the rain filling it was magical. That night we slept the deep, sweet sleep of children -- or happy honeymooners. Besides, we wouldn't know till midmorning that no roof repairer would be willing to come see about stopping the leak until it stopped raining. We spent much of our professional workdays that Monday and Tuesday calling roofers in semi-vain. (All promised to come as soon as the sun's first rays appeared.) Our colleagues may have found us less than 100 percent productive -- phone receivers jutted from the sides of our heads like body parts -- but we were glad to be at work, because of how the house smelled.

The smell was water-related, but not roof-related. It was the smell of a Doberman on steroids. You see, Mr. Valentine, our beloved Ginger has a doggie version of lupus. Now, we've all seen the side effects of steroids on people, but somehow people, who mostly use indoor bathrooms and don't have to get permission to do so by whimpering at the door, manage to conceal the Bladder Buildup symptom. Poor Ginger . . . fastidious almost to fanaticism . . . never had an "accident" in the house once, not even when she was a tiny puppy . . . and now . ..

My husband and I congratulated ourselves on our good fortune. We'd been afraid the pools glistening on the living room and dining room floors came from a new leak in the roof.

The complete failure of the bathroom plumbing on Wednesday had nothing to do with either the roof or Ginger. The plumber had told us a year ago that all the fixtures had gone "bald," threadless, and would have to be replaced in a year. I called him to tell him he was right, and when I explained that the hot water had been running in the bathtub full-tilt for 12 hours and the whole steamy bathroom was starting to fill up he agreed to try to come before the weekend.

He arrived Thursday morning -- a saint in his own right, right? Showering in tandem (who knew when the supply of hot water would give out completely?) had been amusing but inefficient. By late Thursday afternoon we were poorer but cleaner. That was lucky, because I had to give a poetry reading at a very elegant art gallery in Ellicott City Thursday night.

By a stroke of good fortune the transmission in my husband'almost-new car didn't go up until we were on an Ellicott City side street within walking distance of the gallery. (We'd taken his car instead of mine because my car had developed a flat tire earlier in the day and, when I took it in to get a new one put on, it had been shown to require a complete brake job.)

"Forget about the car," my husband told me. "Concentrate ogetting through your reading." The reading went fine -- better than usual, in fact, what with the extra adrenalin. Waiting for a way home gave us time to poke around Ellicott City awhile, peering into the deep stone windows of shops that would have looked at home in Galway or Cordoba. Luckily, almost everything was closed so we weren't even tempted to spend money, but a couple of bars were open and it was a tender, drizzled-cobblestone night. . . . As I mentioned earlier, we'd hoped to get away somewhere after my daughter's wedding, and Ellicott City turned out to be our spot for a six-hour vacation.

Well, seven hours, really, counting the awesome, Wild World-worthy ride from Ellicott City to Perry Hall in the tow truck. Our driver had been a dive bomber in a previous life: You could tell from his military way of talking over the two-way radio. A clearly imagined long white Red Baron scarf flew from his neck as we hurtled across the Beltway at 80 miles an hour. What a nifty novelty to be one of the Bad Guys just once! If I'd been in my Tercel I'd have been coveting a car phone so I could report us to the police. Our bomber agreed to drop us off at the Towson HoJo on the way back. My husband and I consumed a wickedly huge midnight breakfast and then walked the two miles to our house in a warm, romantic mist.

Late last night it stopped raining, Mr. Valentine, so, with a tiny twinge of regret, we removed the tin rain-catching cooler from the bedroom and moved the bed back to where it belonged. We were just about to climb into it -- thinking what a shame the week of rain had somehow knocked out all the electricity on our side of the street, since it would have been a perfect night for watching some nice trashy video -- when who should come hallooing in the front door but my daughter and her new husband, back a day early from their honeymoon. (They'd picked an obscure island off the coast of Georgia for their hideaway, and I don't have to reiterate what the coastal weather was like all week.)

Well, the timing was perfect because we'd had to cook all the food from the top layer of the freezer on account of the electricity being out, and we'd been wondering what we were going to do with the leftovers. It was a joy to watch the young newlyweds scarf up whole beef roasts and baked turkeys and wash them down with the milk that would have been sour the next day.

Then they went home.

For my husband and me, it was like, wow, alone at last! And this morning there was a tall handsome man with long black hair walking around on the roof, fixing it, and it seemed like no accident that his name was Angelo. He was the haloed last character in a miraculous week when all the bad luck got split open so the silver lining showed. Split open by that cupid-arrow of yours, Mr. Valentine, that I once was ignorant enough to consider silly.

I'm sorry this letter got so long, but I'd appreciate your keeping it on file at LEK for easy reference if ever my husband or I need to be reminded that with your agency's insurance -- that comprehensive coverage called Love -- we can cope with just about anything. Please put us down for a whole-life policy renewable forever.

Sincerely,

Clarinda Harriss Raymond

CLARINDA HARRISS RAYMOND is a frequent contributor to the magazine.

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