Several winters ago, Rich and I went out for dinner on a particularly frigid evening in early February. It was nearing the end of our annual six week hiatus from innkeeping, when we close the Inn for spring cleaning, repairs, and some down time to keep us fresh for the upcoming season. In the mood to have someone else cook and serve us dinner, we went to the Barnstable Tavern, a cozy place in Barnstable Village, where we like to tease our favorite waitress and enjoy a little “couple” time.
Sitting across from us were two elderly ladies engrossed in conversation and seemingly oblivious to my furtive glances. I don’t know why, but I took pleasure in seeing them enjoying their food and delighting in each other’s company. Perhaps I was nostalgic for my own mother, or imagining myself at their age and hoping that I would have such pleasurable company with which to while away a winter’s evening. Whatever it was, I simply could not stop studying them.
Rich apparently intuited my intrigue with the women, for as we stood to leave he engaged them with a parting comment that lead to a pleasant conversation about life on Cape Cod. It turns out they were old friends, both originally from Germany. The larger woman, we learned, had a summer place on Lake Wequaquet where we often kayak in the summer. Though our meeting was only brief, we gave her our business card, invited her to stop by for coffee if she was ever in our neighborhood, and wished them both a good evening.
Several days later, as we were readying the Inn for Valentine’s Day, the phone rang. It was the German woman we’d met a few days ago asking if she could stop by the Inn for a visit. Naturally I said yes, but knowing that we still had much to do, I was concerned that she not overstay her welcome simply because she was lonely.
Moments later she appeared on our doorstep carrying a large paper bag. She breezed inside with apologies for interrupting our day, but eager to share with us the gifts she brought in the bag. It seems this lovely lady, whose real name I can now not remember, was the Queen of Hearts.
Years before, with her children now grown and her husband gone many years, she started sewing tiny hearts by hand from remnants of fabric she had accumulated over the years. Each morning she would craft a dozen or so before breakfast, then go about her day, returning to finish them by night with bits of yarn to fashion an ornament of two hearts strung together.
Each year at Valentine‘s Day, she explained, she would festoon her neighbor’s yards with her heart creations. And in the succeeding years, for those who hung the original hearts out as the next Valentine’s Day approached, she would reward them with more hearts, one always bearing the year’s date. Eventually her story caught the eye of a local news reporter, who christened her the “queen of hearts”.
Inside the bag, of course, were dozens of festive hearts in all shapes, colors, and sizes, each paired with another by a yarn tether. As Valentine’s Day was approaching, she told us, she wanted us to have some to share with our guests. My eyes welled up, silently reproaching myself for thinking that the reason for her visit was anything other than this gift of love and joy she wished to share with us.
Each year since her brief first visit to us, I hang the hearts around the arbor that serves as the entrance to the Inn. And each year right before Valentine‘s Day, sometime perhaps in the dark of night, the Queen of Hearts adds to our bounty. This year however, as February 14th approached, I found no new hearts hanging from the arbor. I worried that perhaps she had taken ill, or worse still, that she was no longer able to travel to her summer place on Cape Cod in the depths of winter to spread her joy through handmade hearts.
But this morning, February 14, 2010, as I walked through the arbor to fetch the Sunday paper, there they were. Strings of tiny new hearts waving brightly in the breeze, one bearing the number “2010”. God bless you, Queen of Hearts. Your selfless gift so many years ago now, still brings tears to my eyes and joy to my heart. Thank you, thank you, wherever you are. And Happy Valentine’s Day to you!