Family traditions

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Kelly Abels celebrating her family’s Valentine’s Day traditions. Photo courtesy of Kelly Abels.

“Search far and wide by any measure, 

It’s time to begin your quest for treasure.

Roses are red, violets are blue, 

When the clothes are damp, what do you do?”

Since I was little, my family has celebrated a beloved Valentine’s Day tradition: a scavenger hunt around our house with clues written by my parents. 

Each year, after the excitement of Valentine’s parties at school and handing out cards to friends, my siblings and I would return home eager for the evening to arrive. Of the five kids in my family, I’m the youngest, with three brothers and one sister ahead of me. As such, a portion of my Valentine’s candy always seemed to mysteriously disappear as soon as my siblings got home. My parents, determined to have a nice meal alone for once, would set us up with pizza and a movie before they then retreated to the dining room for a candlelight dinner. 

However, it seemed as though every year would end up with them sitting at the table attempting to enjoy their dinner as we peered over the banister on the stairs. After a few minutes of waving us away and telling us to wait “just a few more minutes” so they could finish eating, my mom would finally relent and announce the exciting news: it was time for the Valentine’s Day scavenger hunt. 

I’m not sure how the tradition started, but it took no time at all to become a permanent fixture in our family. My mom was the one that took the wheel with most of our Valentine’s Day activities — including  buying the lollipops to give to our friends and helping us make boxes for Valentine cards — and this was no different. 

Although I gave no thought to it at the time — all I cared about was whether I would receive a packet of Fun Dip candy from a friend that year — my mom always made sure to buy my siblings’ and my favorite treats for the treasure hunt. She set it up and organized everything and kept the household working like a well-oiled machine. 

Arguably one of the best parts of the treasure hunt, however, were the clues themselves, and it was no secret that my dad was the mastermind behind most of them. Each year my parents would joke about how my mom spent hours slaving away at the computer to create little rhymes for our Valentine’s day hunt, just for my dad to take over the second half of the clues and finish in about five minutes. 

Referred to as the “patriarchal bard” in one of the scavenger hunt clues — his words — each new clue we uncovered would send us to a new part of the house. From starting in the kitchen, to wandering through the garage and outside, to circling back into the bedrooms and living room, we never quite knew where we would end up with each year’s scavenger hunt. 

We had to “search far and wide” — in other words, just around the house — for our “quest for treasure.” When we were younger, the clues were easy, with rhymes like “roses are red, violets are blue. When the clothes are damp, what do you do?” sending us to the laundry room. As we grew older, however, the scavenger hunts grew progressively more challenging.

Of course, each scavenger hunt ended with us finding the “treasure.” The Zebra Cakes and cans of Pringles — usually reserved for special occasions or family road trips — seemed to be devoured in a matter of minutes. Even so, the enjoyment of the scavenger hunt and the time spent together was more valuable than any Valentine’s candy we received, and it’s those memories that have stuck with me more than any delicious meal could have.

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