A little girl with red-gold hair knocked on our front door last weekend and delivered a valentine. She knew Valentine’s Day had passed, but a rainy Sunday in March seemed like a fine time to make cut-out hearts from scraps of wrapping paper. She dictated a sunny message, which her dad copied verbatim onto the back of each valentine: “Hearts! Hearts! Hearts! Red, pink, white! Red, pink, pink, red, white, red, pink, red, pink, red, white! Valentine’s Day in the air! Love, Sammy.”

Then she led her dad up B Street, stopping at houses and hailing passersby to give them her hearts. Before they headed for home, she insisted on walking a few blocks farther, to a familiar brick house on the corner. She was sure Grandma and Grandpa would want a valentine. An unexpected gift can hold a certain magic. Sometimes it arrives by messenger from a free-spirited preschooler, holding a paper heart. And sometimes we have to find our own valentines, lying hidden nearby until we blink and look again.

I had to think hard and blink several times before I discovered Benjamin BadKitten’s true value as my chief garden staffer. Now I’m wondering if I should buy him a heart-shaped halo. BBK’s management style can best be described as slothful, but I didn’t really appreciate his paws-off approach until I let a newcomer audition for a part-time job in the garden. Marlon, a large, semi-feral cat that I feed every day, leads a mysterious life on the streets. When he spent a few hours outside with me recently, I saw clearly that an aggressive employee can be more of a literal pain than a supervisor who simply catnaps.

When Benjamin gets down in the dirt with me, he climbs onto my lap and purrs while I pet him. Eventually he wanders off for a snooze in the shade. Marlon feels some genuine affection for me, I think, and he, too, likes to be petted – until something startles him. Then his mantra is “Scratch first and ask questions later.” Last weekend I was on my knees, pulling up grassy weeds in a neglected flower bed, when the big guy stretched out close to me, rolled over and playfully bumped my knee with his head. When I slowly extended my bare hand to pet him, he stiffened and lashed out with a lightning strike of his claws. This instinctive fight-or-flight reaction has happened before, and I can’t always predict what will trigger it. So while BBK polished his halo, I gently informed Marlon that a position on the garden staff was no longer available.

Nearly every night since early December, I’ve stood at our kitchen window, looking out across the street and beyond a fence, to a house with gabled windows and a welcoming front porch. Before I go to bed, I make sure that the residents’ holiday lights are still shining, high in the trees, red, purple, gold and blue against the darkness. This week I walked up their driveway, introduced myself and thanked the warmhearted couple for their Christmas valentines, which continue to glow in a neighborhood waiting for spring.

Sydney Craft Rozen and her husband, Lee Rozen, are grateful to be fully vaccinated and ready for small gatherings with family, just as birthday season arrives. Email her at scraftroze@aol.com

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