Joe Hoover was my first date. He had big brown eyes, a gentle smile, and a quick sense of humor. We were ten years old and had been devoted friends since 2nd grade. So it was pure happiness for me when, a few days before Valentine’s Day, he asked me to go to the Saturday matinee with him on February 14th. The old green Scera Theater was within walking distance, admission was only 25 cents, and there were double-seats on each aisle, where two people could sit together, perhaps with an arm around the shoulder, and enjoy the double features. My anticipation for this first date was sweet.
Saturday morning arrived, and I spent the whole morning getting ready. I took a bath, Mom fixed my hair, and I picked out a red sweater and red plaid pleated skirt for the event. All ready, and then I began to wait for noon to come. My aunt arrived and spent quite a bit of time teasing me about going on a first date at age ten. I watched out the window and waited, and waited. He didn’t come.
By 1:00, I had given up hope and knew he wouldn’t show up. I was definitely disappointed, but amazingly philosophical for a 10-year-old. I remember knowing that there must have been a good reason for Joe to stand me up, and I remember feeling very special that I had been asked in the first place. It seemed like a fairy tale, too good to come true.
The Valentine’s Day tradition in my neighborhood in those days was to deliver our valentines by stealth to the front doors of our friends. As soon as it started getting dark, we would take our cards to the friend’s front porch, ring the doorbell, drop the card on the doormat and run like crazy. I delivered my valentines and was back home when our doorbell rang. I was monitoring the deliveries and remember the huge envelope sitting on the doormat when I opened the door. It was, of course, from Joe. Written on the valentine was a heartfelt apology and explanation. He hadn’t told his Mom that he had a “date,” and when his cousins arrived suddenly, she wouldn’t let him leave. So, family obligations kept him home.
He never asked me out again. It probably took all the courage he could muster to deliver that Valentine to me. When summer came, my family moved and I never saw Joe again. Many years later, when my son was four years old, I read a newspaper article about some Boy Scouts stranded by an early snow in the rugged back country of the Uintah Mountains of eastern Utah. They were having to wait for the weather to warm up before hiking out, but were running low on food. Volunteers in a small plane flew over their location and dropped food and supplies to help them wait out the cold snap, but then, sadly, they crashed into one of those mountain peaks. Joe Hoover was on that plane.
So there is never a Valentine’s Day that I don’t think of Joe. He is vivid in my memory and will always hold a very special place in my heart.