Cornelia Hackenbroich needed a half gallon of milk. Really, she only needed a quart, but the half gallon was less expensive per ounce. As far as that went, a gallon would be cheaper still, but factoring in the reality that it would go sour before it would be finished, the half gallon was the most economical choice. Cornelia stepped into the Pick ‘n’ Save and frowned. It was the morning of New Year’s Eve and all the streamers, party hats, and noisemakers had already been shunted to the discount aisle. An arch of red, pink, and white hearts greeted her as she passed the produce section, heading for the dairy case at the back of the store..
“Really!” she hmphed. “It’s bad enough that the entire month of February is given over to all this foofaraw, but now I have to contend with it in December as well! It’s time something is done about it. Yes. Something must be done!” But what? Cornelia picked up her half gallon of milk and didn’t even return the cashier’s cheery “Happy New Year!” as she checked out.
That night, Cornelia treated herself to a small glass of eggnog at 9:30 and was in bed by 10:00. At her age, she felt no need to stay up and watch the ball drop and as far as she was concerned, 2021 couldn’t be done with fast enough. But her sleep was restless, filled with images of giant, heart-shaped candy boxes and mountains of red roses and memories of the decorated mailbox in her fifth-grade classroom. Starting on the first of February, every art class was devoted to making Valentine’s Day greetings which were then to be slipped surreptitiously into the mailbox at the back of the classroom. On St. Valentine’s Day, or the on the school day closest to it, her teacher would draw the name of a boy to play postman and deliver all the handmade cards that had been collected. While the most popular girls received 30 or more greetings, Cornelia received two: one from her teacher and one from her archnemesis, Danny Weber. Danny’s card read: “Rosses are red; violets are bleu. Pig poop stinks bad and so do you.”
New Year’s Day 2022 dawned ice cold and brittle. But not nearly as ice cold and brittle as Cornelia’s heart. She also woke with a steely determination. This was the year something would be, must be done. Along with determination came inspiration. The only way to banish Valentine’s Day forever was to take on that stupid little putti named Cupid. Cornelia could scarcely wait for a decent hour to call her friend, Sybilla Brenders. Cornelia and Sybilla had been friends since their senior year of high school when the both of them had sat in Sybilla’s car across from Memorial Hall with a tape recorder and made fun of the frothy gowns their classmates were wearing to the prom. Although they had gone to different colleges and graduate programs, Cornelia and Sybilla had ended up working for the same law firm, where they made a formidable team. Neither of them had married and now that they were retired from the practice of law, both had found time to be heavy on their hands.
At precisely 9:50 on New Year’s Day, (Cornelia didn’t want to interrupt Sybilla’s ritual 10:00 beer), she placed the call and outlined her plan. Sybilla was delighted, but said, “This is bigger than the two of us. We need reinforcements. Let me make a few more calls.” Cornelia agreed. By the time the sun set on New Year’s Day, Margareta Koch, Ursula Finck, and Gertrudis Bocehm had signed on to the cause. The Spinster Squad was born.
On January 3rd, the first order of business for Cornelia was to apply for a passport. Never having been out of the country, she had not needed one. Ursula and Gertrudis also needed passports, but Sybilla and Margareta already had theirs. Cornelia’s second stop of the day was at her bank where she withdrew a small, leatherbound book from her safety deposit box. The book was old. Very old. It had belonged to her great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother Maria Bodt who had been born in 1618. Maria had a reputation for being a wise woman. No. She was not a witch. She did not worship the devil or any of the nature gods of the Alpine village where she lived. She simply had collected, saved and written down the lore of herbs and potions passed down from her own great-great grandmother. Of course the fact that Maria was not a witch hadn’t saved her from being burned as one. Fortunately, her little book had by that time been safely handed over to her own granddaughter.
The next step in Cornelia’s plan involved research. For this she enlisted the aid of everyone in the Spinster Squad. In no time, Cornelia’s dining room table was covered with printouts of Cupid’s origins, which were contradictory in the Greek and Roman mythologies, paintings, and sculptures. It was Margareta who located the oldest known sculpture of the imp – as an “afterthought” attached to the statue of Roman Emperor Augustus of Prima Porta. Unfortunately, the statue was located in one of the most secure museums in the world – the Vatican.
For two weeks the members of the Spinster Squad debated the best way to access the statue. Time was of the essence. International travel was still a dicey proposition. But by the first of February, Italy was open. They decided the best way to approach the museum was as part of a tour group. Gertrudis, who had been a travel agent, arranged the details of the trip. Cornelia had carefully gathered the necessary ingredients called for in her little book. No. She did not need eye of newt or gall of toad, thank you very much. But she did need to boil the ingredients in either rainwater or melted snow in a copper vessel over an open fire. Of snow, there was plenty, but it was chilly work as she stood outside on a 20° day heating the potion over a fire in her Weber grill. She carefully decanted the greenish liquid into a tiny bottle that had once held nitroglycerine tablets for her Aunt Adelaide.
And so it was on the tenth of February that Cornelia Hackenbroich, Sybilla Brenders, Margareta Koch, Ursula Finck, and Gertrudis Bocehm boarded a plane for Italy in the company of a tour group of senior citizens from Canada. On February 14, they stood in the Vatican Museum before the statue of Augustus of Prima Porta. The tour guide droned on about the great military victories Augustus had achieved and how he had bestowed upon himself the role of divinity. As planned, Ursula feigned a heart attack, drawing the attention of the tour guide, guards, and most of the members of the tour group. Cornelia, Sybilla, Gertrudis, and Margareta joined hands and quietly chanted while Cornelia uncapped the vial and flicked a few drops of the potion onto the statue of Cupid at Augustus’ feet. They held their breath as the marble softened and took on the color of human flesh. But just as Cornelia was about to utter the final words of the incantation, a shout arose from one of the guards. Distracted, Cornelia turned to look and as she did so, instead of being consigned, along with every other depiction of Cupid in existence, to the depths of Hades, the little putti rose up on iridescent wings and faster than a heartbeat fired off ten golden arrows. The darts found their marks in Cornelia, Ursula, Margareta, Gertrudis, Sybilla and five widowed Canadian gentlemen who had been on the tour. Just as quickly, the little imp returned to pose at the great Augustus’ feet.
And that is why five American spinsters emigrated to Canada, where, I am told, Valentine’s Day is celebrated with great enthusiasm.