Volume 21, Number 121,

My Favourite Valentine’s Day Gift
by Karen Shaw

I’m as romantic as the next gal so when the TV host asked the audience about their favourite Valentine gift, I shouted, “The ashtray!”

The ashtray?

Yup, the ashtray.

I know it seems like an odd choice, especially since I don’t smoke and never had any desire to date anyone who did. Even as I child, I could not understand why anyone would want to inhale such unpleasant smelling hot air. It made me choke! When a family friend accidentally burned my arm with a cigarette, I vowed to never light up.

So why the ashtray? Perhaps you’re thinking about a gag castle with a smoking chimney? Or a small ornate ceramic or crystal bowl with appropriate indentations? Not quite. Let me back up.

One Valentine’s Day when I was in my twenties, I was feeling particularly vulnerable. All my friends were engaged or newlyweds, including the gals at the office. My left hand was bare. My only prospect was a thousand miles away and it had been a while since he’d contacted me. I felt left out. On the way to our morning break with my coffee clique, I mentioned the hole in my heart. Of course, they all said the right things to console me. The day looked bleak as we poured our hot drinks in the cafeteria and took our usual place on the north side of The Student Union Building to admire the new snow sparkle against the distant mountains.

Times have changed. Back in my twenties, not only was smoking permitted in public buildings, it was acceptable to light up anywhere, including cafeterias. Every table had an ashtray encouraging customers to enjoy a Camel with their coffee. Such was the case that morning. No sooner had we seated ourselves when Sheila whipped out her DuMauriers and pulled the ashtray towards herself. One look at the receptacle made her burst out laughing as she shoved the dish at me.

“You don’t expect me to smoke, do you?”

“Look at the ashtray. Maybe you have a secret admirer.”

I took the small container and noticed that someone had etched a huge heart with the words, “I love you” inside. It was a piece of goldcoloured tin, the size of soup can lid and as thin. The company which made the disposable ashtrays fluted the edges. I’m sure the cost was just pennies.

To this day I don’t know who wrote the message. I don’t know the intended audience. I suppose I’ll never know who carved the love note. Perhaps it was divinely sent? It really doesn’t matter. Just knowing that someone was brave enough to put the message out there was enough for me. It spoke to me, screamed at me so loudly that at the end of the break I stuck the metal disk in my purse. Every year I bring it out to remind myself that others need to hear the words, “I love you”. Thankfully, there is plenty of love to go around.