By Carlos Morales
In the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, the amount of mail coming through the small West Texas town of Valentine skyrockets.
Each February, the post office receives love letters from around the world, from starry-eyed sweethearts looking to get their messages marked with a special stamp before being sent off to their final destination. The roughly 30-year tradition showcases designs by local students. Each year, the handful of students attending Valentine Independent School District compete to have their design selected for that year’s cancellation stamp.
This year, ninth grader Erick Ramirez drew the winning design: a Gambel’s quail, a common sight in the West Texas desert.
The flora and fauna here are common themes every year. But a quail hadn’t been done before — and Ramirez says it reflects a message of unrequited love.
“’Cause, sometimes, you know how relationships get so close…and automatically it like cuts off and it just runs away or flies away from you?” Ramirez explained. Quail are like that.
At the foot of the bird, the young high schooler drew XOXO in bold lettering. The stamp reads “Love Station” — the unofficial nickname the Valentine post office picked up over the years.
The stamp is a simple design.
“Oh I thought it was cute,” chuckles Ismelda Ornelas, the new post master in Valentine. “That’s something we haven’t seen before.”
Ornelas has been at the job for about 5 months now. But her family in Valentine goes back three generations. She remembers when she was a student here and won the cancellation stamp contest with a drawing of a horse with a flower next to a fence.
“It’s just fun,” says Ornelas. “It’s just the idea of having your art going all the way around the world.”
Here’s how it works: letter-writers seal up and address their valentines, and send them to the Valentine post office inside a second envelope, which Ornelas tosses out. She then marks the contents with the unique cancellation stamp, and sends them off to their final destination.
There are 36 other post offices across the country that offer this special service on Valentine’s Day. Four of them are in Texas — in Honey Grove, Lovelady, Loving and Venus.
The Valentine Post Office has an old scrapbook where they’ve preserved a copy of every cancellation stamp. The earliest one dates back to 1985. A former postmaster started the collection.
“It’s her little collection and, you know, notes of the countries that it went to and how much valentines she stamped that year,” says Ornelas.
Ornelas says one year the Valentine post office received nearly 40,000 letters — and like every year, each letter was hand stamped. So far, she’s received just a few thousand.
“It’s slowly dwindling because writing is a lost art,” says Ornelas. “Not everybody writes anymore. It’s email, text message.”
Although the number of letters being re-routed through the Valentine Post office has dropped in recent years, Ismelda hopes the tradition continues as a way of spreading love, and compassion.
“It’s something that the world needs right now, especially everything that we’ve seen locally in the past, what, six months? You know, unfortunately, El Paso, Midland. So the idea of spreading love is an awesome idea.”
Erick Ramirez may not be looking for a valentine this year, but he already knows he wants to send letters to his brother who’s incarcerated.
“I want him to have the stamp and the drawing,” says Erick. “I have to show how much I love him and how much I miss him so far.”