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Dear Readers: Today is Valentine's Day. Several readers have asked me to reprint a letter that ran in my column three years ago, explaining the story behind the holiday. Here it is:

Dear Ann Landers: I thought your readers might like to learn about the origins of Valentine's Day. According to material from my church, the real Valentine was a young Christian priest who lived in Rome in the 3rd century A.D. He was martyred because of his faith, and a feast day was kept on the anniversary of his death. The date was Feb. 14.

The legend of St. Valentine says that while imprisoned in Rome, the young priest wanted to assure his loved ones of his well-being. Just beyond his cell window grew a cluster of violets. He picked some of the heart-shaped leaves, and on them, he scratched the words, "Remember your Valentine," and sent them off by a friendly dove. The next day, he sent more messages saying simply, "I love you."

That's the legend. The custom of sending valentines actually arose much later.

The feast of St. Valentine, which ushers in spring, eventually became identified with the expression of love.

-- A Romantic in Providence, R.I.
Dear Romantic: Thank you for that lovely story. Several years ago, a reader asked me how sending messages of love became associated with Valentine's Day. I checked with Sally Hopkins, then director of Hallmark's Historical Collection in Kansas City, Mo., who told me that Valentine's Day first appeared in England about the time of Queen Victoria. The first Valentine's Day cards were called "Penny Dreadfuls" and "Rude and Crudes" because they were insulting and obscene. As time passed, the mood changed completely, and the holiday became one of giving gifts, flowers, candy and cards to loved ones and sweethearts. You can be sure the merchants, Hallmark people, florists and jewelers were delighted.

Happy Valentine's Day to our veterans in VA hospitals around the country, to whom we owe so much. And a special thanks to all my readers who took the time to visit the vets and send valentines, especially the schoolchildren. Bless you.

Parents split after 50 years

Dear Ann Landers: My parents have been married over 50 years. I always thought they had a good marriage, but about six months ago, out of the blue, my father began accusing my mother of having affairs. He accused her of cheating with the mailman, the plumber and the roofer. I am positive that my mother has never been unfaithful. Both Mom and Dad tried counseling, but each one says the other is "crazy." They are now in the process of getting a divorce.

I am an adult, but I still find this situation extremely upsetting, and my father is making it worse. He has a new, young girlfriend, "Wanda," and he takes her everywhere. He refuses to visit me unless he can bring her along. I feel this would be disrespectful to my mother and have told him he cannot bring his girlfriend here.

He was always such a great father, and I am disturbed by his behavior. He says he will not come to see me without Wanda. I miss him terribly. What should I do?

-- Up Against It in Palatine, Ill.
Dear Palatine: It sounds as if your father has a bat or two in his belfry. Accept this possibility, but stick to your principles. If your father does, indeed, get a divorce and marry Wanda, you must then open your doors to them, if not your heart. But you need not offer them hospitality until their relationship is legal.

Problems? Dump on Ann. Write her at The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.

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