Episode 23: The Love Station
23: The Love Station
Hightower So I just got back from Marfa, Texas. I went all the way out there to attend a weeklong audio storytelling workshop. So, yes, I’m a nerd. And yes, I had a great time.
We did a lot lot in seven days. Each of us students chose a person to interview and then we used that interview to produce a profile that would later air on the local public radio station.
I naturally choose a building as a subject – or to be more precise I chose a person who works inside of a small building in the small town of Valentine, Texas.
That’s what we’re going to talk about on this, the twenty-third episode of The Works; a podcast about the world we build around us.
I’m Brantley Hightower.
At seven o’clock on a Tuesday morning it’s hard to tell if anyone lives in Valentine, Texas. The sign at the edge of town claims a population of 217 but honestly that feels a bit optimistic. An occasional truck passes through town but it would be easy to assume this place was deserted. Unless, of course, you see Leslie Williams hoisting old glory up the flagpole outside of her office.
This is something Leslie does every weekday morning. She does it because she’s required to. She does it because she’s the postmaster of Valentine, Texas.
Williams Well, our mail is here first thing in the morning. So we come in, we box our mail and start, you know, working the window as customers come in.
Hightower Leslie has long silver hair. She reminds me a bit of my grandmother. I don’t tell her that, but I learn later that she is, in fact, a grandmother. As the postmaster of Valentine her job is to make sure her town is able to send and receive mail.
Hightower What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen come through the mail here in valentine?
Williams Oh, I don’t know… every once and a while we get one of those talking cards and you accidentally activate it and it starts talking. It’s kind of a weird feeling when you have mail talk to you but that’s about it…
Hightower Valentine doesn’t have delivery service so everyone in town has a P.O. box in the post office. Leslie has long ago memorized the names associated with each of these boxes. As she sorts through the incoming mail she tosses each letter into the corresponding box.
This is something she does every morning all by herself.
Hightower Does it ever get boring in here?
Williams Uh, not really because you’ve always got something that, you know, you need to read or you can read and study up on...
Hightower Or a random guy from San Antonio showing up and sticking a microphone in your face.
Hightower Valentine is the second largest town in Jeff Davis County. Of course, there are only two towns in Jeff Davis County. It was founded in 1882 on February 14th. That’s why they decided to call it valentine. It’s the town Leslie has always called home.
Hightower So tell me a little about valentine. I mean it’s a relatively small town in the grand scheme of things.
Williams Right. Well, it used to be pretty large because there was a railroad station that did the turnaround here but it has since closed. So now we’re pretty small. We have the post office here, a public library and our school.
Hightower At the turn of the twentieth century valentine’s population was closer to five hundred. Back then there was the railroad station. There was a saloon, a hotel, a newspaper and a grocery store, too. It doesn’t have any of that now - even the gas station next to the post office has shut down. But the post office is still there. There’s been a post office in valentine since 1886. There’s been a postmaster there since then, as well.
Hightower if you weren’t the postmaster, what would you do?
Williams I’d probably just stay at home.
Hightower But she doesn’t just stay at home. Instead she wakes up before dawn and heads to work. In a typical month she’ll process about six thousand pieces of mail.
Williams But of course during February when we get our valentines in we usually send… out about twelve thousand. One year we sent out thirty thousand valentines.
Hightower It turns out people like to send valentines that have been postmarked in a place called “valentine”. It’s become a pretty big deal. People from all over the country will stuff a bunch of valentines into a big envelope and send it to the valentine post office. If everything inside has the proper address and postage, Leslie will stamp it with a special postmark called a “cancelation”, and then send it on to its final recipient.
Williams We have our junior high and high school children submit designs for our cancelation and then our city council will pick the design they like. We submit it to the postal service and they approve it and have a rubber stamp made out of it.
Hightower The students are free to be as creative as they want. There’s really only one requirement.
Williams It has to have “Valentine, Texas”, “Love Station” and then “February 14th, 2018” for next year.
Hightower So you refer to this as the “love station". Do you consider this the love station?
Williams Well yes, especially during that time of year… no.
Hightower It occurred to me that so long as I was here I should send something to my family from the love station in valentine. And so I bought a postcard…
Williams Ok that’ll be thirty-eight cents…
Hightower I wrote a note to my family back in San Antonio…
Hightower I love you guys… and I miss you… very much…
Hightower And when I gave it back to Leslie she postmarked it, “Valentine, Texas.”
For the transom traveling workshop in Marfa, Texas, I’m Brantley-
This story originally aired on Marfa Public Radio in December of 2017. Special thanks to my Trasom Traveling Workshop teachers, Rob Rosenthal and Matt Largey and of course special thanks to Leslie Williams for letting me show up at her post office unannounced and being such a good sport. Thanks also to my fellow classmates Andrea, Bridget, Christine, Elizabeth, Kathleen, Margot, JT, Rachel and Sally. I can’t wait to hear what you do next.
The music today was by the Karaoke Session Band and was of course originally performed by Stevie Wonder. The Works is a production of HiWorks and you can find more information about it and everything we’ve talked about today at Hi dot Works.
Until next time, I’m Brantley Hightower.