How To Texas is a recurring column offering step-by-step instructions on how to be Texan. We’ll guide you through the cultural traditions, customs, eccentricities, lifestyles, and activities you’ll find on your travels that make the state uniquely Texan.
For one month every year, Ismelda Ornelas plays Cupid. She’s the postmaster—and the only employee—at the post office in Valentine, a remote West Texas town of about 100 people near Marfa. Each February, she’s inundated with letters. “Valentine’s Day is bigger than Christmas for me,” she says.
Since the early 1990s, the Valentine post office has been offering a program that allows people from anywhere in the world to send a valentine through the aptly named town. People send their cards to the post office, and each envelope gets stamped with a Valentine-themed postmark before being sent off to that special someone. Ornelas says she receives between 10,000 and 15,000 valentine requests a year—and she stamps them all herself. “The week of [Valentine’s Day], I work overtime,” she says. “I work almost 12-hour days. I just stamp away for hours, and they get in the mail stream, and they go out.”
The stamp, which changes every year, is designed by a student in Valentine. Middle and high school students enter stamp designs into a contest, and the Valentine City Council selects a winner. This year’s stamp, designed by 12th grader Jajahira Rodriguez, features a drawing of a tractor pumping out hearts. The design is a tribute to Rodriguez’s late father, who drove a tractor, according to the U.S. Postal Service.
Ornelas says people send valentines from across the United States and from countries as far away as Japan, France, and England. “Name a country and there’s probably been one from there,” she says.
Sometimes people will include a letter to Ornelas, explaining who the valentine is for. “I’ve gotten letters saying, ‘This is for my wife, she’s terminally ill with cancer, and this is our last Valentine’s Day,’” she says. One year, a sender told her he was using the valentine to propose to his girlfriend.
Though it’s hard work getting all the letters sent out, Ornelas doesn’t dread it. “I love it,” she says. “I’m the middleman sending a form of love to another person.”
Here’s how the program works:
1. Write a Valentine’s Day card to a loved one. Put the card in an envelope and address it to the recipient. Add the required postage stamp to the envelope.
2. Place the piece of mail (or multiple pieces if you’re sending more than one) in a larger envelope or a box, also with appropriate stampage.
3. Address the larger envelope or box to:
Valentine’s Day Postmark
311 W. California Ave.
Valentine, TX 79854-9998
4. To ensure your card is delivered in time for Valentine’s Day, you’ll want to send it to the Valentine post office by Feb. 5. (For international deliveries, Ornelas says “the sooner the better,” because it can take 21 days to get to its destination.) But the program lasts through March 14, so if you’re not worried about timing, you can still send it later.
5. The postmaster then opens the larger envelope and stamps each valentine with the special Valentine, Texas, postmark and sends it off to its final destination.
6. There’s no charge to do this, unless you send in more than 50 valentines. People who submit more than 50 will be charged five cents for each additional one.
A note from the postmaster: Ornelas says the stamp is done in red ink, which can be hard to read on red envelopes. It’s still visible, but you may want to consider a different color.