As a young person, I was relieved when Valentine's Day had passed. The holiday was for sweethearts and I hardly ever had a sweetheart. Today, Valentine's Day celebrates loving relationships of all kinds: People, pets, just about everybody is welcome to participate.

Since I embrace this more inclusive custom, I'd like to share one of my favorite love stories.

About 22 years ago, our family traveled to Long Island to visit my parents. My dad's favorite hobby is collecting and working with carpentry tools. Dad's tools were especially appealing to his 15 grandsons, and he often allowed them to tinker in his basement workshop.

In the backyard, Dad set up two sawhorses and secured a two-by-four plank of wood. He tapped three-inch nails into the wood, about 10 inches apart, so that our eight-year-old son, Mish, and his five-year-old cousin, Kevin, could hammer them in.

Mom and I supervised as they carefully concentrated on hitting the nail heads with Grandpa's big hammers. Our little carpenters-in-the-making were adorable.

Then Mom and I decided to go for a brief walk around the block. I soon realized this was a bad idea. Hindsight is 20/20.

On our way back to the house, my nephew, Jay, ran into the road, insisting, "You'd better get back there, Aunt Bernadette!" Apparently, one of the nails came loose and Mish decided to hold it while Kevin hammered it back into the wood.

We grabbed a bunch of paper towels to stop the bleeding and my dad drove us to Stony Brook Hospital's emergency room.

Stony Brook is a busy place. It ministers to people who've experienced serious accidents and illnesses. Although Mish's index finger was a mess, it was not life-threatening. With triage procedures in place, I knew we'd be waiting for a long time.

The chairs in the crowded wait­ing room were arranged in a large square so that everyone was in full view of each other. As my dad, Mish and I sat down to wait, I pondered the fragility of life and how quickly things can change.

Glancing about, I noticed a woman standing in the doorway, attempting to hide her face. Her swollen eyes peered around the room, trying to find an empty seat. Clearly, she had been beaten up. With humiliation, she arranged her disheveled clothing and straightened her matted hair.

Within seconds of her arrival, my dad stood up. He walked across the room, sat down next to the woman and began speaking with her. They continued chatting on and off for two hours while we waited to be treated. She winced at the pain in her face when my dad said something that made her smile.

I wondered what Dad was saying to the woman, but in my Irish/Catholic family, you don't ask questions like that.

I still recall this spontaneous act of kindness. I'm sure a few other folks in that waiting room went home and told their family about the guy who stood up and walked across the room to comfort a stranger.

Life is fragile and we can't solve other people's problems. But love is eternal. So, here's a Valentine's Day shout-out to all the sweethearts who helped us get through a rough day, or even a few tough hours.

(Mrs. Bonanno attends St. Mary's parish in Albany and can be reached at