In 2002 I brought my 89-year-old mother home from a long illness in California. I placed her in a lovely retirement community where she was happy, made new friends.
Then, Valentine's Day emerged and she remembered her husband who had died last year.
"Gosh," said my husband, Fitz. "Grams seems sad without Don and his Valentine corsage. Why not have a dinner party for her? We could invite our friends who lost spouses."
"They must be lonely too," I said. "It's a great idea."
Fitz mailed eight colorful invitations to lady friends whose lives had suddenly changed. "Wear red," it said. Soon phones rang with excited voices: "I can't wait."
Fitz was the chef, since this was my Valentine too. An inveterate cook, he poured over cook books, searching for the most unique dinner.
Here's the menu, some of which he started cooking the day before Valentine's: artichoke and lemon soup, raspberry intermezzo, short ribs with mango, delicious vegetables, green salad with arugula, avocado and tomatoes, white wine and the pièce de résistance, cherry pie dessert with Tahitian Vanilla a la mode.
I recruited my teenage granddaughters as table setters with silver they polished, red candles, tulips and at each place, a primrose, truffles, red napkins and Fitz' printed menu. To start, he served Mother's favorite champagne and hors d'oeuvres at the fireplace.
Mother and the other guests were beside themselves with joy. Fitz and I knew we had provided a happy evening on an otherwise quiet day. Thus a tradition began: gifts at each place, fresh flowers, silver sprinkles strewn about and interesting dishes such as Chicken Paprika, Osso Bucco, Potted Beef Italian Style, Ina Garten's Chicken With Forty Cloves of Garlic and Winter Squash soup.
This year is Asian: Miso Soup with udon noodles and bok choy, Sushi with avocado and shrimp, Oriental Stir Fry with cashews, Tilapia with Asian reduction sauce, basmati rice, a simple salad and Cherry Pie.
For two weeks Fitz shopped at Charlotte's Asian food stores, making miso soup and sushi over and over until just right.
Valentine's Day could never be happier for us.