50,000 Love Letters: Valentine’s Day In Nebraska
February 14th, 2013
Itâ€™s Valentineâ€™s Day, and people are scrambling for a special way to convey their feelings. As more and more personal communication takes place digitally, the rituals of romantic relationships in America are changing. But in Nebraska, some traditions are harder to stamp out.[audio:https://kvnonews.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/1-14-13.mp3]
The clickety-clack staccato of typewriters greets visitors to Porridge Papers in Lincoln, Neb. on a recent Saturday morning.
â€œOh my gosh!â€ gasps Jhoni Kucera, giggling, as her fingers haphazardly jab the keys. â€œI should be good at this at my age, but Iâ€™m not!â€
Kucera is one of hundreds of people who popped by the annual â€œLove on the Runâ€ event. The paper mill and letterpress studio was bursting with cheer and warmth as DJs spun â€™50s-era soul and doo wop, volunteers whirled fluffs of cotton candy and doves in cages cooed inquisitively. Everything was dressed in pink hearts and red ribbon, and flowers in vibrant hues of magenta and purple adorned the tables.
In the midst of all this, Kucera was typing a love letter for her husband, Bruce.
Or, at least, she was trying.
â€œI remember typing on an old typewriter, but itâ€™s different, because we get used to texting and using our computers and so, now it seems so funny,â€ she said ruefully. â€œAnd you run off the paper, and you forget to go down to the next line, you forget to capitalize, and thereâ€™s no spellcheck!â€
She laughed again, undaunted by the overextended sentences careening off the edge of her paper.
Kuceraâ€™s playful struggle is sort of a symbol of how times have changed when it comes to love and dating in America. Every year around Valentineâ€™s Day, newspapers and magazines dutifully push stories about how personal interactions have become so impersonal, so detached. Digital communication is tolling the death-knell of romance, they say.
â€œI really donâ€™t think thatâ€™s true, in a lot of ways,â€ said Dawn Braithwaite, a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who studiesrituals and communication in personal relationships. â€œI think people are expressing it differently.â€
On the whole, Braithwaite said, romantic rituals have been decreasing in American culture.
â€œI was born in the â€™50s,â€ she said. â€œI was raised to expect girl-boy parties when I was sixteen, and being pinned â€¦ and even by the time I was a young person or a college student, most of this was gone.
â€œNow, I think it truly is gone.â€
But different doesnâ€™t necessarily mean worse, Braithwaite added. Weâ€™re actually communicating more than ever – weâ€™re just doing it in a stream of snippets, like texts and emails, rather than long, hand-written soliloquies.
And the culture of technology has resulted in new rituals: one of the first things many couples do after getting married, for example, is change their Facebook relationship status.
On the other hand, this ubiquity of communication â€“ and the ease of making contact â€“ can result in uniformity. Itâ€™s hard to make one particular text stand out when youâ€™ve already exchanged more than 3,000.
â€œOne thing people may think about, whether theyâ€™re sending someone digital messages or whether theyâ€™re face to face or whether theyâ€™re writing letters, is how do you help somebody feel important?â€ Braithwaite said. â€œHow do you make them feel important and special, chosen? Believing that youâ€™re not sending these messages to five other people? â€œ
Porridge Papers owner Christopher James said thatâ€™s the point of Love on the Run.
â€œObviously, Valentineâ€™s (Day) is a special day for people, whether itâ€™s romantic or just letting a friend know you care about them,â€ he said. â€œAnd thereâ€™s just something about coming in and having to write what you want, instead of buying a card or sending a quick text telling someone youâ€™re thinking about them. I think thereâ€™s a lot more sentiment in this, and it means a lot more to somebody.â€
He recalled one letter-writer in particular who went the extra mile â€“ or, more accurately, about 6,700 extra miles.
â€œThis is kind of the one that always sticks with us,â€ he said. Three or four years ago, â€œthere was a soldier serving in Iraq, and his girlfriend lived in Lincoln. He got a hold of his girlfriendâ€™s best friends, and wrote a note, and gave it to the best friend, who came down here and typed a note, from him, to send to her. And that kind of touched us.â€
An estimated 500 people composed letters this year, which are being delivered today; skip five hours northwest into Nebraskaâ€™s Sandhills, and the number of Valentineâ€™s Day letters shoots up a bit – to around 50,000.
Just ask Arlene Paulson, the postmaster for the city of Valentine, Neb.
â€œWell, there you have barbed wire,â€ she said with a laugh, describing some of the stamps used at the post office for Valentineâ€™s Day mail. â€œAnd youâ€™ve got a post, with some hay growing up the sides of it, and it says, â€˜From the heart of the Sandhills.â€™â€
Known as the Heart City, Valentine is an epicenter of sorts for modern-day love letters. Paulson said the post office expects to receive around 50,000 pre-addressed letters and cards this month, which are then re-mailed with a special Valentineâ€™s Day postmark. The program started more than 60 years ago, and these days, letters arrive from all over the country â€“ and the world – as well as from their own backyard.
Helen Donovan of Valentine is stamping a set of envelopes on a recent Thursday afternoon.
A reporter asked how long sheâ€™d been mailing the special valentines.
â€œOh, probably since they started. 1960, 1965 â€¦â€
â€œA lot of years.â€
Donovan said the Valentine Cachet program allows her to send something special to her family and friends â€“ something different.
What really makes those letters different from, say, an email, is the effort involved, according to Paulson. â€œThe person that youâ€™re sending it to can see the effort that youâ€™ve put into it. To take the time to write a letter out, or a card, or sign something â€¦ itâ€™s a little touch from one personâ€™s heart to another.â€
Thereâ€™s one family â€“ neighbors of her daughter in Michigan – to whom Donovan never fails to send a card.
Itâ€™s because of their last name.
A valentine, from Valentine â€¦ to the Valentines.
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