In Texas, we have a lot of towns with cool names. There is actually a town named Cool. And Cut and Shoot. And Valentine. Yes, Valentine. How cool is that? Especially if it’s February.
The story goes that a railroad crew, in 1882, had finished laying the tracks to the point where a water and fuel depot would be needed. It was Valentine’s Day. So they named the depot Valentine. It also was the name of one of their superiors, so the name has dual origins. Valentine, to give you coordinates, is halfway between L.A. and New Orleans, almost exactly 1000 miles from each. Or, if you want something local, halfway between Marfa and Van Horn. Deep in the Heart of West Texas.
Valentine never got very big. It says 217 on the city limits sign, but the mayor there, Jesus Calderon (who goes by Chuy), says that it is likely about 180 these days. Chuy has been mayor there for 40 years, likely a record of some kind for mayoral longevity in Texas. In addition to being mayor, he taught in the Valentine Independent School District for over decades and even worked part-time for many years as the local Fed Ex delivery man. Nobody knows Valentine like Chuy. He says there is no gas station, no ATM, and no crime.
The school, K-12, has about 40 students. Some years they only graduate five or six from high school. One year, not too long ago, they graduated two. Think about that. If you’re the poorer student of the two, you are simultaneously in the bottom 50 percent of your class and the salutatorian. Lisa Morton, who grew up there and is managing editor of the Van Horn Advocate, says that her sister graduated alone. I said that must have been a lonely event and she said, “Oh, no, the whole town came out to celebrate her big day.” Gotta love small towns.
Well, the town isn’t so small that it doesn’t have a post office. And in February they are busier than Santa’s elves on Christmas Eve. This time of year they receive thousands of cards to be re-mailed bearing the Valentine postage stamp. The cards come from all over the U.S. and as many as 30 foreign countries. One year they sent one to the White House, to Chelsea Clinton. Each year there is a design contest at the school and the winner has their “love logo” chosen as that year’s stamp. Imagine that. You can send your Valentine a Valentine from Valentine. Can’t get much more romantic than that!
Unless you take your Valentine to Valentine on the 14th. Chuy says they have a big party each year, underwritten by Big Bend Brewing Company from nearby Alpine. Last year, Jerry Jeff Walker played. Two years ago, Joe Ely was there playing his famous song, Saint Valentine. This year, Little Joe y La Familia will headline the event. Since Valentine’s Day falls on a Tuesday, there was pressure to move it to the weekend, but Mahala Guevara, vice president of Big Bend Brewing, explains in the official brochure: “West Texas was never known for convenience; to enjoy the best the region has to offer, you have to be willing to work for it. And your hard work will be rewarded with great Texas music… “
Gotta love it. A work ethic embedded in leisure. A very Texas concept.
Big Bend Brewing is even brewing a special ale for the event called Total Commitment. On the back of this limited edition brew it says, in part, “The owner of this…came all the way to Valentine, Texas, on a Tuesday night…what Total Commitment do you have to make.” At 14.2 percent proof, it is appropriately named. Makes my eyes a little misty thinking about it.
The most romantic Texas couple I know is Coach Taylor and his wife Tami, from Friday Night Lights. They are fictional, but they’re also authentically romantic. I could see them taking an impromptu road trip to Valentine for Valentine’s – just 200 miles from Dillon.
Coach Taylor always told his team: “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.” It’s good advice for football. Probably good advice for love, too.
W.F. Strong is a Fulbright Scholar and professor of Culture and Communication at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. At Public Radio 88 FM in Harlingen, Texas, he’s the resident expert on Texas literature, Texas legends, Blue Bell ice cream, Whataburger (with cheese) and mesquite smoked brisket.