The Legend of the Valentine’s Day Crow

I grew up in a household that was extremely self-sufficient. As soon as you were old enough (tall enough) to open the fridge, or reach the controls for the washer, you were on your own. Ever since I could touch those washer knobs, I've been doing my own laundry — I think it was fourth grade, but I could be wrong.

I used to think I had a bad mom because I had to wash my own soiled clothes. Looking back, I'm thankful, especially when it came to my socks (once I hit puberty). I also realize that my mom was a smart one, not a lazy one.

Meal times were the same. I remember always making breakfast and lunch on my own, or fighting a sibling for some of theirs. The plus: All we had to do was write down what we wanted on the fridge door, and it would magically appear. Like marshmallow fluff, for a fluffernutter sandwich (marshmallow and peanut butter). Dinner was a family meal that Mom made, usually served in a big casserole dish then scooped out onto a piece of toast.

Needless to say, there is a point in life when you start cooking for yourself. For most kids, adulthood really sets in when the bonds of the home are finally broken — you either get kicked out of the house or move out of your own accord. Believe it or not, I left on good terms right after college. I couldn't wait to get into my new pad with my own kitchen where I could cook my own dinners!

I started this column talking about family because we all take some family tradition or secret recipe with us for life. Do you eat ham on Christmas? Turducken on Thanksgiving?

Do you have steak when the Valentine Crow brings your presents on Valentine's Day?

In my house on Valentine's Day, it was certain that the Valentine Crow would fly into town and bring presents for all good boys and girls. One time, my mom received a concerned phone call from the principal of our grade school: "Mrs. Redding, are you aware that your child gave a talk at show 'n' tell about a giant crow that brings presents on Valentine's Day?"

Without blinking an eye, Mom replied, "Don't all families get visited by the Valentine Crow?"

I would've thought at that point, with my being the youngest of four siblings, every teacher at that school had known they were teaching the last of the loony Redding kids.

On Valentine's Day, Mom would cook a special steak dinner. She'd buy the nicest filet mignon available, and make steak au poivre for the entire family. Mom may have butchered the French pronunciation by calling it "awe-paw-ver," but she could prepare it as well as any Cordon Bleu graduate.

Finally, at dinnertime, with the smell of fresh pepper and butter sauce in the air, the entire clan would gather at the table. The candles would be lit and the table (along with all us freaky Reddings) would be decked out in Valentine's Day red and silver.

It was right at this time every year that the sneaky little Valentine Crow would somehow know when to fly by our house (it just so happens that this was the same time Dad would go to the bathroom). Disclaimer: I wish my parents had smoked pot, but I think the following actually happened in complete sobriety.

The doorbell would ring, and we'd hear a loud "Caw! Caw!"

Excited as beavers, we'd all run to the door to find a huge bag of presents. Each individual present would have little bird footprints painted all over it. There were one or two gifts per child, and we'd carry them back to the dinner table, where we'd eat and open gifts. Usually you got something like a red shirt or some socks to beat off into — whatever it was, you were psyched to get a present.

To this day, my brother and sisters and parents still carry on the tradition of the Valentine Crow. If you aren't lucky enough to have grown up with a crazy-ass family, then you can still celebrate Valentine's Day by cooking my mom's steak au poivre!

If you're just plain lazy, then I'd suggest you at least buy a pair of red socks to celebrate with.

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C.M. Redding
Contact: C.M. Redding