February And Love Is Blooming

 by Tom Sims

My great grandfather's name was Valentine Scates. He was not a professional logger. He probably should have stayed home that one day in 1901 when he went out to cut a tree. The tree fell on him and made my grandfather an orphan. Having shared that heartwarming story, I lay the foundation for my sometimes curmudgeonly response to the holiday that bears his name. Frankly, I do not know much more about him than his relationship to trees, and relationships are what define St. Valentine's Day, a day named after a man we also know little about.

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Speaking of warm feelings in the air, I first set foot in the Fresno area in January. Before that, I had only passed through. It was 1996, and I was considering an invitation to move to the Central Valley. If I had waited until Valentine's Day, my initial feelings would have been far more positive and centered around the sights and smells of orange blossoms along the Blossom Trail. That is what evokes sweet feelings of love and romance in me.

Speaking of springtime in Fresno, we really do live in a garden. But we also have gardens, like the Shinzen garden in Woodward Park. It is a haven from the urban landscape and noise of our lives that allows us to escape the rat race and walk hand in hand with a sweetheart or alone and remember to center our lives in quiet reflection.

Shinzen garden in Woodward Park, image source Shinzen website
February! Valentine's Day!

That is when the annual Fresno Valentine's Run takes place to raise money for the garden. You have until February 13 to sign up.

January has to be the bleakest, most depressingly dismal month to be in Fresno. December is cold and dreary, but at least there are Christmas lights to disguise the obvious. But February is the time for runs and hints of spring. In February, things start to heat up and the hearts of the young turn to love. We are reminded of the adage: "bloom where you are planted," and we start to shop among the florists for our loved ones and nurseries for ourselves. I fell in love with Fresno in February. In February, everything was starting to bloom. You could see the majestic mountains. The weather was starting to be delightful. 

That was solidified in March. March comes right after February. March in Fresno was created to convince people to live here. I had already started smelling honey suckle everywhere and later found out it was the scent of the orange blossoms. I was profoundly grateful that I had been able to overcome my anti-Fresno bias just to experience Spring in the Central Valley. And I have been grateful ever since.

God is smart. He has a way of directing our lives in spite of ourselves sometimes. I cringe to think of the arbitrary limits I sometimes impose upon Him and upon myself. Someone once told me that God made babies cute so that you would still love them when they became teenagers. I don't know about that, but I do love Fresno.

If I were still young, strong, feisty, and so inclined, I would Do that 5K run walk. It is a great cause and it is a day filled with fun and special features. Check out the website today!

Tour what is possibly the most romantic place in Fresno. The Shinzen Friendship Garden will provide coupons for a free entry for participants to tour the garden. Don't miss the Clark Bonsai Collection. "Shinzen," according to their own promotional material, "is a place for exploration, learning, reflection, serenity, and renewal. During your visit, please be respectful of the grounds and of other visitors who are enjoying the beauty and peacefulness of the Garden."

I love this area and the people who live here. There is very little that I do not love. Maybe it is about being at home. Maybe it is about something else. But whatever it is about, I see the first signs of Spring and I love it.

Valentine greeting card 1909. Public Domain
So, why did this day come to be? And why was it named after my great grandfather's namesake? St. Valentine was a priest in Rome during the reign of Emperor Claudius II, according to Christian tradition. That is part of the story. The rest is that he seems to be a composite of about three such men. According to tradition, Emperor Claudius was having difficulty enlisting enough soldiers for his army. He blamed it on men being reluctant to leave their wives and families. His solution was to ban marriage. He did not want them spending their strength on women when it was needed for battle.

Valentine defied the despot and continued to perform marriages. He was arrested, beaten, and beheaded. He was executed on February 14, about 269 A.D.. You can visit his bones at a church in Ireland. It is a year-round pilgrimage site for lovers. Valentine's Day is, in Christian tradition, a celebration of marriage.

By the way, Saint Valentine is also a patron saint of Terni, an idyllic city in Umbria, Italy, epilepsy, and beekeepers. Go with the beekeepers a moment. Get back to nature. Support Shenzen Garden, and join the run on Monday! If nothing else, show up at Woodward Park, walk the grounds, and cheer on the runners.

In the interest of continuing this as an early spring stream of consciousness around a central theme I must add this:

There are three Saints Valentine that appear in connection with February 14. The first was a Roman priest, the second, a bishop of Interamna (modern Terni), and the third, the saint who suffered on the same day with several companions in the Roman province of Africa.

Romance is not my strongest gift, but I love music, art, nature, and poetry. I also love my wife, and I may try to convince her to take a Valentine’s Day stroll with me. However, I just remembered that we both have doctor’s appointments Monday morning and that is something we can and will do together: a ride in the car, breakfast in the parking lot of McDonalds, getting dropped off at our appointments, maybe a fun stop at the dollar store. (Hey! We’ve been married since 1975. That’s love and togetherness for us!) I will buy her some sugarless candy and she will get me some peppermints.

It is going to be a very special day!

I may not be able to run 5K anymore, though the event offers a Run/Walk option. That might also be too much for me, but I have learned that when February comes to Fresno, I can be both young and romantic. I am reminded of the adventure of age:

 "At twenty a man is full of fight and hope. He wants to reform the world.

When he's seventy he still wants to reform the world, but he knows he can't."

—Clarence S. Darrow

Nelson Mandela was nearly seventy-two when he was released from prison and began to reshape South Africa. In his 90s, he was still reforming the world.

Anna Mary Robertson Moses, best known as Grandma Moses, did not start painting seriously until she was seventy-eight. In 2006, one of her folk-art paintings sold for 1.2 million dollars. In their obituary, when she died, The New York Times (Obituary: Grandma Moses Is Dead at 101; Primitive Artist 'Just Wore Out'"The New York Times. December 14, 1961.) said, “The simple realism, nostalgic atmosphere and luminous color with which Grandma Moses portrayed simple farm life and rural countryside won her a wide following. She was able to capture the excitement of winter's first snow, Thanksgiving preparations and the new, young green of oncoming spring... In person, Grandma Moses charmed wherever she went. A tiny, lively woman with mischievous gray eyes and a quick wit, she could be sharp-tongued with a sycophant and stern with an errant grandchild."

Harlan Sanders did not start Kentucky Fried Children until he was sixty-five and invested his Social Security check. Sanders allegedly had 1,009 rejections when trying to establish his franchise. Among them, was the grandfather of a friend who gave me a personal account of his story and regrets.

Stan Lee of Marvel Comics fame created iconic characters into his 90s, but did not start until he was thirty-nine.

Julia Child did not publish her first cookbook until she was fifty.

Samuel L. Jackson got his acting break at forty-three.

Ray Kroc, who successfully franchised McDonald's, did not buy his first franchise until he was fifty-three.

Astronaut and Senator John Glenn returned to space in his late 70s to study the dynamics of space travel related to aging.

It is a long list and gets even longer when it includes those who started young and remained active well into their golden years. Big dreamers never stop dreaming and hoping. Springtime is always on their horizon and love is in their hearts and eyes. They believe they can still make a difference.

Darrow may have been right about a couple of things: (1.) We learn we cannot change the world all by ourselves. It takes teamwork, community, and cooperation, but one person, like St. Valentine, can make a difference. (2.) We learn that it can't all be done overnight. We may not live to see all the changes we desire. The writer of Hebrews says that the heroes of old days died in faith embracing a promise that would only be fulfilled in later generations.

There is no reason for discouragement because real lovers, romantics, and dreamers have visions that extend beyond themselves and their lifespans. Growing old is and can be a wonderful thing. Even January can be beautiful, but February is better. I know a freedom today that I have never experienced at any other time in my life. I plan to use that to make a difference.

Growing old with people we love is like a 5K run and can be loads of fun. Let's keep changing the world as long as we are breathing.

Grow old along with me!

The best is yet to be,

The last of life, for which the first was made:

Our times are in His hand

Who saith "A whole I planned,

Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!"

—Robert Browning



Tom Sims is a local pastor (and Grandpa!), writer, and blogger. Pastor Tom Sims spends time pastoring Granny’s Park Community church, leading 4141 Ministries with his wife, Andrea Sims, writing, teaching, and hosting various websites, blogs The Dream Factory where Ideas can be given room to grow, and Facebook pages such as The Politics of Compassion. You can also find him on Facebook.