While few have Elizabeth Barrett Browning's talent to pen poetic love letters that will endure for the ages, there was a time when men and women with little writing skill simply poured out their hearts to each other on paper.
The custom appears to have fallen into disuse, and that is a shame because it is absolutely impossible to write a bad love letter. Why? Because the recipient of such a missive is not inclined to be critical of style.
It's the message that counts.
Children know that and write excellent love letters. One of my personal favorites -- written in brightly-colored crayon and decorated with hearts, rainbows and a portrait of a woman with green hair that may be me -- is from my granddaughter. "Dear Grammy," it reads, "I love you. You are intelligent. Love, Samantha." Sweet child! I like her work of art so much that it's been stuck with magnets on my refrigerator door for about three years.
Still, with Valentine's Day approaching, the love letters on my mind are those written from man to woman and vice versa. While most folks would agree that the art of writing love letters comes more easily to women than to men, no female (Elizabeth BB excepted) can top a love letter written by a romantic man. I've received a few and treasure them all.
A male's romantic attention doesn't have to be directed my way for me to take notice. After decades of marriage, my cousin David still writes love letters and poems to his wife, Sharon. He's not the slightest embarrassed to show her how much he cares. I am amazed that he has become such a sweet and sensitive man.
He sure wasn't that way as a young boy when my family visited his family's farm in Oklahoma. At age 8, I had never seen a stinger-nettle, and when David (along with his twin brother Dick) encouraged me to pick what appeared to be a pretty flower, I did. For the record, stinger-nettles are appropriately named. Plucking one makes your hand feel like you've stuck it in a hive of bees. And if you are 8, it makes you cry ... a LOT!
Richard, my son Greg's good buddy, is another romantic male. By the time he was in high school, Richard was a regular Valentino, arranging to have a red rose delivered to the table where he and his prom date were dining. "She looked so pretty I almost wanted to cry," he later reported without a hint of self-consciousness.
But it was survival, not romance, Richard was concerned with the night he left our home in a severe thunderstorm even though we urged him to spend the night. He had ventured about 50 feet from our front door when he was enveloped in a white light followed almost immediately by a deafening crack of thunder. Illuminated by periodic lightning flashes, we saw him -- in strobe-light fashion -- galloping back to the house. "Whoa!" he exclaimed, shaking rain from his hair and clothes, "I thought the Big Guy was going to say, 'Empty your pockets, and cash in your chips!'"
Even now, I'm not sure what he meant. But he did spend the night.
Mom has some wonderful love letters from Dad, written from Africa and Europe during World War II. And he got his share from her, too. War, I've decided, makes it easier to express feelings for someone you may never see again.
In his 80s, a late gentleman I greatly admired had a very creative way of expressing his love for his wife on Valentine's Day. After she retired for the night, he scattered hearts and chocolate kisses around the living room. What a sweetheart!
Speaking of sweethearts brings my husband, Ray, to mind. Love letters? I've had a few from him, way more than a few if you count the notes he writes on the back of used envelopes: "I've gone to gas up Guppy Rojo. XOXO" or "I'm recycling at Wal-Mart. XOXO." Yes, I save all those envelope notes along with every greeting card he has given me, and I'll soon have more valentines to add to my sentimental stash.
Admittedly, Valentine's Day is a confusing holiday. It's the one day when the most romantic thing a man can do is to take the love of his life out to dinner. At the same time, the most romantic thing a woman can do is prepare a candlelit dinner at home for her one and only.
This year, I think I have found the answer to that perplexing problem. I plan to light the candles and order Chinese in.
Happy Valentine's Day to lovers everywhere!