I love February 14. In the third grade book of days, it is the high holy day of love and friendship. With a flurry of red paper, pink paper, white doilies and ribbon, each child is acknowledged as friend and no one is left out. I love the tight economy of rhyme, “Be mine, Valentine!” Or tighter still –the terse unrhymed verse of candy hearts: Cool Cat. Bear Hug. Top Dog. The only broken hearts are heart shaped sugar cookies with pale pink frosting– and even those are delicious.
I love the perennial promise in the question: “Won’t you be my Valentine?” And I love that on February 14, the the third grader’s answer is yes. Yes, I like you. Yes, I will be your friend. Yes, I will be your Valentine.
I love the envelopes. We take mail as it comes, whether hurled weightlessly through cyberspace as email or passed as a note by a friend–but Valentine’s Day is a reminder of how we like it best: in an envelope.
I love notes. I remember my father saying to me once that there is no greater social skill than the right note at the right time. He was a jazz-playing-diplomat playing the piano when he said it. I laughed at the pun, but I’ve never forgotten it. On my short list of regrets are notes unwritten—each a missed opportunity
I learned to write letters by reading letters. My sister and I would pull the worn blue-bound 1922 edition of Emily Post off my grandmother’s shelf. We delighted in the samples she presents: letters of congratulations to the Upstarts on their latest venture, or letters of introduction to the Newcomers in Strangetown, or the bread and butter letters of Constance Style or Grace Smalltalk. We didn’t know that we were learning to write letters. We didn’t know that we learning about “voice” in writing.
Young writers are mystified by voice. Through letter writing, we learn one of the secrets of voice: voice is tied to audience. This week, as we learn to write letters, we will learn about voice. How would a note from Lady Macbeth to Macbeth sound different than Helena to Hermia…or Ferdinand to Miranda?
We will begin by reading lots of letters. We will write letters and read letters– some real and some make believe. We’ll learn to write the right note at the right time. We’ll learn to write letters– Sincerely. Truly. Always. And With love.