“Don’t change a hair for me, not if you care for me. Stay, little Valentine, stay. Each day is Valentines Day” Rodgers and Harts “My Funny Valentine” (1937)
Last month, in the midst of all the cold and snow, I reveled in the romance of Valentine’s Day — one of my favorite times of the year. Named for Saint Valentine, this special day is dedicated to people in love, falling in love or simply thinking about love.
February 14, like the state of Virginia, is for lovers. Always was. Always will be. And its memories for me this year — a month later — also are special to millions who know love makes the world go round. No other holiday mixes fun and sentiment quite as well.
Hearts, flowers and sweetness for sweethearts are everywhere. Cards and kisses are exchanged and love is in the air. In a life full of romance, candle-lit dinners, scenic rendezvous and romantic interludes, Valentines Day is unique in my heart of hearts.
Thoughts of Valentine’s Day bring out our best and bounciest, as well as a dilemma when it comes to picking out that special gift for that special someone. I mean, there must be something besides the usual run of heart-shaped candies and heart-shaped gold lockets — which brings to mind other special people on this special day of love and remembrance.
For example, my late father and mother — Juanita and Sanford Carter — eloped to Waukegan, Ill. to get married on Valentine’s Day in 1934 . But I really didn’t grasp the significance of this wonderful confluence of dates until their silver wedding anniversary in 1959, in our big house at 2605 N. 1st St. And what a day it was.
Surrounded by a large number of their many friends, love was everywhere as my parents were presented with countless gifts of silver — including hundreds of silver dollars. Red Valentine hearts and cupids of all sizes were strewn throughout, many festooned with silver dollars. It was happier and more joyous than any of my birthdays.
Perhaps my best memory of that occasion was listening starry-eyed as Mr. Carter — a truly great baseball player in the Negro Leagues — regaled the well-wishers with some of his exploits, including the time he got a triple off the nonpareil Leroy “Satchel” Paige in Bismarck, North Dakota, in 1935. And then hearing some old-timers insisting that Sandy Carter would have made the major leagues had he come along a decade later.
For my folks golden anniversary, on Valentine’s Day in 1984, there was a huge celebration in the grand ballroom of the Marriott Inn in Brookfield joined by some 300 well-wishers — many of whom gathered 25 years earlier. In addition to Mrs. Neil Moody, my mothers sister and widow of Calvin C. Moody — and dear friends Susie Feaster, Jim Fields, Ernestine OBee and William Stark — other Milwaukeeans attending included:
Circuit Court Judge Clarence Parrish and his wife, Mildred; Sixth District Alderman Marlene Johnson and her husband, Ben; former mayor Frank P. Zeidler, and his wife, Agnes; retired police detective Felmers O. Chaney, later to head the local NAACP; Mr. and Mrs. John Givens; Mr. And Mrs. Reuben Harpole; Eclipse editor George F. Sanders; Mrs. Ernestine OBee; Carter family Atty. Ted Crockett and his wife, Pat, and Father Matthew Gottschalk, parish priest of St. Francis and St. Elizabeth Catholic churches.
The musical portion of the day was provided by vocalist Veo Brazil, with dance music furnished by the Mantee Ellis Quartet. After the party ended, my wife, Janice, and I, took my still-in-love mother and father, 72 and 73, to Maui, Hawaii, for a neat vacation. Take it from me, nothing compares to Valentine’s Day or a wedding in that paradise.
Over the years, I’ve known a few other people who found love with someone special and kept it through thick and thin. When true love appears, its usually because the time is right. Indeed, a man or a woman may be floundering — seeking direction and wondering what it will take to love and be loved. And then, out of nowhere, it happens, and your heart soars. You find the love of your life. Its happened to me, and Im forever grateful.
All of that said, here are a just a few of the special people in my life. They all made a distinct impression, and helped me, in their own way, to find my way:
James Cameron: A dear friend who made history in 1930 by escaping a Ku Klux Klan lynching in Marion, Ind. A famous photo of his hung friends on the cover of his book “A Time of Terror,” is a riveting reminder of anti-Black racism. Cameron later founded Americas Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee. His memory lives on.
The celebrated Mrs. OBee: A woman whose name was iconic in my Milwaukee home town. Her family’s famous funeral parlor provided fitting services for many of the city’s Black people — rich, poor, big and small — including both my parents. In her twilight years, she was my fathers generous and considerate next-door neighbor.
Leonard Sykes: A professional confidante who loved jazz and original Black R&B. As a member of The Milwaukee Journal’s editorial board in 1986-87, I was its top Black staffer, but felt I was simply a journalist. Caring co-worker Leonard assured me this was special, and his advice helped me become a better pro in an eventful year.
The legendary Mattiebelle Woods: This great lady who’d worked on my father’s Milwaukee Globe in the post-war 1940s, gave me my start at her weekly Milwaukee Recorder while I was in college. She already was the grande dame of the citys Black press, and everyone read Party Line by Mattiebelle. Jet Magazine paid her a 100th birthday tribute in 2002. She passed away in 2005 at 103 years of age.
My four adult Milwaukee-born children — Terrence, Sherry, Steven and Tracy: We had lots of fun and they all turned out fine. Terrence served 20 years in the Navy, Sherry gained fame with Black Entertainment Television, Tracy is a nurse and Steven runs his own business. Who could ask for anything more?
A belated Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone and, especially, the loving memory of my parents — Milwaukee’s own Juanita and Sanford Carter. They truly belong to the ages.
Milwaukee native Richard G. Carter is a freelance columnist