In the age of ever-faster electronic communication, the hand written letter has been described as a vanishing species. This year even Hallmark is offering e-valentines online.
But in Brattleboro, letter writing is making a comeback in response to a local artist’s challenge to the town: to produce 1,000 love letters by Valentine’s Day.
A sidewalk sign outside the rented Brattleboro storefront says, "Come in, sit down, write a love letter."
Inside, a dozen people are doing just that. The sunny room is equipped with comfy chairs, a sofa, tables, typewriters and art supplies.
A boombox plays a scratchy love song.
Christina New, a teacher, read about the project in the newspaper.
"I love to write letters," she says. "I’m very sad that nowadays not a lot of people send cards or mail. It’s usually text messaging or e-mail. So I thought this was great."
Nick Perry, a musician and bike mechanic, texted his friends for their addresses.
"I’m 28 years old," Perry says. "Given the fact that I haven’t written a lot of letters and that I know a lot of people that live far away, this has been sort of a kick in the pants."
"Letters get kept forever," project founder Dalia Shevin says. "And they may have implications far beyond what you may ever have imagined."
Shevin says the idea for "One Thousand Love Letters" came to her on the drive home from her parents’ house.
Her grandmother had died in July. "And I had been with family over Thanksgiving and we were going over her letters and photos, and I was thinking about how precious those things are."
Shevin raised the money for the project on Kick Starter. She says funding came from as far away as Australia and Venezuela. She says many of her friends have also helped to make the project happen.
Shevin never doubted that Brattleboro could produce a thousand love letters in the two weeks the storefront would be open. The goal was reached days before February 14.
Shevin says some letters are personal and get mailed right away. Hundreds more are displayed on a huge expanse of red paper covering the room’s back wall.
Shevin picks one. "Here’s one from a mother to a teenaged daughter," she says. "‘Dear M, I love you. And even though you act like you don’t love me, I know you do. On the rare occasions I can make you laugh, I sense it. You are so sixteen…."
There are letters addressed to lost loves, to cars, even to cheese and ravioli.
Shevin walks along the red wall, stopping occasionally to read:
" ‘Dear State of New Jersey, Thank you for my childhood, but also for letting me leave…’ ‘Dear Mighty, Thank you for being the Best dog ever.’
‘Dear Mrs. Rose, You taught me to read. Thanks. You made me think maybe I wasn’t so dumb.’"
Shevin says people from all walks of life have jumped at the invitation to write to loved ones — and loved things. Even a few postal workers have stopped by.
Those visits, together with the recent headlines about cutbacks in mail delivery, have left Shevin wondering how many letters it would take to save the U.S. Postal Service.
The public is invited to a reading of love letters on Friday at the project’s storefront headquarters. For more information: http://www.brattleboro.com/ai1ec_event/1000-love-letters-performance/?instance_id=8637