This radio story was first broadcast in 2015. Builder Scott Williams passed away later that year.
Saturday is February 14th, Valentine’s Day. And for one place in Texas, it’s the most important day of the year.
The sign on the edge of this West Texas town says Valentine. And the population? “The sign says 135. We hadn’t found them yet.” Doug Cook is the largest employer in town. He’s the school’s superintendent. “We have 40 students pre-K through 12.” There’s no 11th grade class. “There’s not much of an … economy right now. The only business in town, basically is the school and the dentist office.” No store. No gas station. No restaurant. “But we do have a post office, which is getting a lot of work right now.”
This time of year thousands of letters are routed through the post office.
Well, you know, a lot of people think it’s, it’s special. You’re sending Valentine cards and they stamped with a Valentine Post Office cancellation stamp. So they think that’s … uh… romantic.
The special postmark began in 1983. Lisa Morton, who used to work at the post office, says a TV crew arrived in town once, hoping to tell a sensationalized story about poor labor practices.
We had to do all this work and they wanted me to show that my arm was sore from all the manual labor of postmarking all these valentines. But it was a labor of love.
She’s been in town for exactly 38 years “In 1977 and our first day of school was on Valentine’s Day.” Two years ago, her daughter broke the gender barrier on the basketball team.
She was eligible to play with the boy’s team because there wasn’t enough girls for a girls basketball team. And that was very disappointing for her. I mean, we even had considered moving. She got some of that “this is how the world is” type of mentality, playing with the boys. Them having to take her seriously. And…she learned a lot.
This year, the entire high school is on the roster. All eight students. One is Jacqueline Garcia, a 10th grader.
You don’t hang out with a lot of kids your age. The only kids my age are the ones that are in travel class with me, so growing up I hung out with a lot of people who are a lot older than me. And it’s taught me. I don’t make the mistakes that my friends from Marfa have made.
She’s talking about the next town over. 45 minutes away. Again, Lisa Morton: “Everybody helping everybody raise your kids. A “it takes a village” type of mentality.” But it doesn’t just “take a village,” Valentine is a village. A small self-reliant West Texas town that doesn’t mind making coffee at home or keeping a gas can around.
My name is Scott Williams and we’re at the Valentine Mercantile Building in Valentine, Texas. The building’s over 100 years and it’s made from adobe and it served the ranching region out here for probably about 70 years with every need they could provide. Food, blacksmithing, just about everything you could imagine, they sold it.
Now this old building is coming to life. It was recently bought by a local brewery, which throws a party there every year on Valentine’s Day. Clay Miller is almost 90. He remembers when it sold stuff.
Well, almost anything that was available at that time. They did not have a meat market. They had dry groceries, all kinds of clothing, and shoes.
“Well my ancestors helped found this town.” Over at the community church, Shaula Elder is burying her grandmother. “Grandma Billye’s grandfather, he donated this land to build this church, right here.” She lives in Austin now.
Living in Austin you know there’s all these restaurants always opening. Everyone’s so cheffy these days. And try too hard, you know? Grilled trout with burnt onion and quail eggs, like who…Who cares.
The night before she and her sister made dinner with her father, artist Boyd Elder. They sat and ate steak and salad in his dusty studio, and she says, it was the meal of their lives.
There’s just something about this place. You know some people – some city folk- say it’s ugly or desolate or whatever out here. And I’m like, well I’m glad you feel that way. Because otherwise it wouldn’t…stay.
-by Tom Michael; Anna Rose MacArthur contributed to this story.