I move up to the counter in the post office to buy stamps for my Valentine cards. I thought I had enough, but at the last minute knew I was short a few stamps. I bought one sheet and then asked for another and then another.
“I love sending letters and cards,” I told the clerk.
She says, “You are one of a few who still do that.”
I smile and leave with my sheets of colorful forever stamps.
I put the stamps on the envelopes and slip the cards into the mailbox. Back home in my studio I light the candle and pull book after book off my shelf. Even though they appear to be in disarray I know where they are. Stacked on my desk are copies of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Francis and a book of Famous Love Letters edited by Ronald Tamplin.
The book of Love Letters is thick and bulging. I always stash things away in my books … old corsages, notes, even a $100 bill that I can’t seem to find anywhere, although I know it is there.
The fragile contents tumble out onto my desk and I pick up each piece one at a time. There is a flower from Abe’s senior prom, wedding announcements for my children and wedding napkins. There are pieces of flowers from a bouquet sent to Aaron once upon a time. There are dried flowers from my own bouquets. One at a time I reminisce over these treasures of love.
I pick up my book of Love Letters. The inscription from Mortimer Adler reads: “There is only one situation I can think of in which men and women make an effort to read better than they usually do. It is when they are in love and reading a love letter.”
Of course I turn to Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Now that is a love story. Robert Browning declared his love for her without ever meeting her. It was through her poetry. He was a 32-year-old writer and she was a semi-invalid from a back injury. They were eventually secretly married against her father’s wishes. Her father never spoke to her again. The two lovers lived happily for 15 years until her death.
And what about the love story of John Keats for Fanny Brawne? Most of their love letters were destroyed, leaving us with just a few lines from one saved letter. “I cannot exist without you,” writes Keats, “I am forgetful of everything but seeing you again — my life seems to stop there.” Now that is a very romantic letter. Yet they were never allowed to marry because he was just a poor poet and, according to Fanny’s family, not a good prospect for a husband. Keats died of tuberculosis in 1821 and she mourned him for six years.
The letters go on … Churchill, Roosevelt, Napoleon, Beethoven, Fitzgerald, Lord Byron … my eyes are strained and watery from reading and crying. There are so many love letters and such tragic and romantic stories.
After an hour of sifting through stories and dried petals, it is time to put the book back on the shelf, but a piece of paper falls out. It is a letter from my dad, dated 2003.
My knees go weak as I find this letter. Perhaps I had forgotten about it, but now in the glow of candlelight of my studio I read his words. I try not to cry, but my tears spill upon this piece of paper as his voice echoes into my writing chambers. The letter is about romance and love and how I need to find it. He speaks of my mom. “Quite often we didn’t even talk, we just held hands and walked. It doesn’t take anything spectacular when you want to be together. That is real romance and it grows and grows. I guess what I am saying is that you should find someone to grow a garden of real romance … share coffee at breakfast. Don’t let your dreams lie in the closet. Dad.”
It is Valentine’s Day. Yes, it is too late to mail a note or a letter, but it is not too late to jot a few words on a napkin or a Post-it note. Go ahead, scribble some words of love and leave them for your sweetheart.
As for me? I have a date with two handsome young men tonight! Happy Valentine’s Day.
LOU ANN HOMAN-SAYLOR lives in Angola at the White Picket Gardens where you can find her gardening or writing late into the night under the light of her frayed scarlet lamp. She is a storyteller, teacher, writer, actress and a collector of front porch stories. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.