February 13, 2002 11:00 pm
KEEPER OF BEAUTY: Freda Cant loves to keep beautiful things, and still treasures her collection of valentines dating back to her elementary school years. The cards stay in a box at Cants Imbler home. (The Observer/T.L. PETERSEN).
KEEPER OF BEAUTY: Freda Cant loves to keep beautiful things, and still treasures her collection of valentines dating back to her elementary school years. The cards stay in a box at Cants Imbler home. (The Observer/T.L. PETERSEN).

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

Freda Cant can still remember many of the words to Roll em Girls, a popular tune of the Roaring 20s encouraging the girls back then to roll their stockings below their knees.

She also remembers playtime at her Dayville grade school. The girls hung a sheet painted with a Red Cross on the sagebrush around the school yard and then carried in the wounded soldiers, their boy classmates.

We patched em up and sent them out again, Cant recalls with a chuckle.

It was, after all, war time: World War I.

The memories of rationing, short supplies and making do still are strong.

But the treasures that Cant, who turned 90 on Feb. 3, keeps carefully tucked in a closet have little to do with war.

They are valentines, colorful bits of paper, lace and homemade thoughts. Many have that little something extra umbrella crepe shapes that open into tiny skirts or balloons, articulated legs that kick or arms that wave, or foldout parts that leave them standing upright. Most feature the big hats of the day, a part of every girl and womans fashionable apparel.

Cants valentines date to her elementary school years, between 1917 and the early 1920s when treasures really were treasured.

We didnt have access to little things then, she said. I treasured beautiful things.

The valentine memories spark stories and faces from long gone.

I only know of one classmate still living. Hes in the Salem area, Cant says as she finds the card with his name signed on it. He was a friend.

Most of the cards are from classmates, but the careful penmanship on one card reminds her that it came from a favorite teacher.

Other cards remind Cant of young men long gone off to war.

Sometimes it was so hard to say good-bye to people as they left to go to war.

But Cants carefully kept valentines arent about sad good-byes or war. They are tiny representatives of an era:

Alive and kicking! Ill say so. To my Valentine, gleefully proclaims a flapper-like image of a girl on one card.

Another card, signed by a boy, sends a not-so-subtle message: To my Valentine If I was she, Id like a manly chap like me.

Another features bright flowers and the urging, My Valentine Let me be your beau-quet.

Cant remembers her grade school teachers making up a decorated box for the class most often four classes combined in one room to put their valentines in for later delivery during a Valentines Day party.

The big day was carefully planned and prepared for.

You couldnt just run to the store any time, Cant says.

She and her older brother and sister spent the school year at a grandparents home closer to school than the family ranch.

Then there was the problem of transporting the carefully addressed valentines to school. Their school bus was, literally, an old gray mare with her brother riding in the saddle, she sitting behind him, and her older sister riding on the mares rump.

My brother was in front. He never gave up the saddle and my sister was always affronted that she had to ride in back, Cant recalls. As the smallest, Cant was anchored between her siblings.

The wooden trunk that transported Cant and her sisters school clothes every year sits today in Cants Imbler living room.

Cant, who freely admits shes a keeper who sometimes has trouble getting her closet doors to close, remembers Valentines Day and the opening of the special cards, like Christmas.

While Cant holds on to the joy of her collection, she stays busy gardening in the summer, working on quilts and scrubbing her floors, and watching granddaughter Jamie Jo Cant play basketball for Eastern Oregon University.

Still a devotee of beautiful things, there is something equally important to her.

I have to be busy, she insists.

This year, Cant is sharing her memories in a downtown

La Grande store, Dons Jewelry, where some of her valentines are displayed. People, she says, have always enjoyed going through her collection.

You can see why I couldnt throw them away, cant you?

Reach T.L. Petersen at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it