By Bob Heafner © 1986
Issue: September, 1986
Three years. Not much time when compared with the ageless beauty of these Blue Ridge summits and hollows, yet three years have for us condensed the efforts of a lifetime into this paper you're reading now. By journalistic standards, we're "a quarter bubble short of plumb", but we've never set our goals on becoming professional journalists. Our efforts have been aimed at preserving the everyday stories and memories of a fading generation.
There was a time when America stood a little taller and the common people were not lumped into demographic categories. As rapidly as water tumbles down our mountain sides, the personal memories of the last generation of American individualists are fading into oblivion. They were a generation that forged ahead in the face of adversity. Hard work and faith were more than just clichés back then. The time has come when the memories of this vanishing generation must be recorded if it is ever to be. The hands of time are ticking away our heritage more rapidly than seconds.
We started this paper with the belief that the memories of individuals were important as well as entertaining and a part of our national heritage that should be saved. We'd like to think that the true character of mountain folks will be what future generations look back on and use to gauge this time and place. We'd like to leave something about these mountains for another generation to share. We have tried to portray the stories of mountain people the way they are, in the words that they are told around the stove in a crossroads store, or shared on the lawn at Grandma's house; to portray the Blue Ridge from its heart.
From the beginning we've tried to preserve the memories that were shared by friends and family. Our goal was to gather together a collection every month of the stories told around stoves in winter and under shade trees in summer. This kind of stories never made it to history books, but they were as much (if not more) a part of our nation's character and strength as any war or disaster.
Along about the time we bought the 10 acres of land in Meadows of Dan to become the permanent home of The Mountain Laurel, Jim Waters of WFMY-TV, Channel 2, in Greensboro, North Carolina, and I began to dream; a dream of what it would be like to travel throughout the Blue Ridge filming old folks sharing their memories. We could imagine that 30 to 60 minute documentaries could be made not only showing elderly people telling their stories, but also showing the places they were telling about. Why, the films could be sent free to PBS television stations and might in some small way help provide an insight into the character of a generation almost gone - a generation that is an inspiration to any who take the time to look at the way they lived their lives.
As we dreamed, over the course of the last year, that dream became determination. A museum devoted not to artifacts, but to videos of people - a living museum where people could see and hear for themselves a view of the past.
Our dream seemed more and more plausible the more we discussed it, until finally we had the details worked out in our minds. The films could be the focus of a museum of mountain memories located on the piece of land near our office. It could be a place where the memories of yesterday's Blue Ridge could be preserved and shared for generations to come. Jim started getting together prices of video equipment. Lord knows it's expensive. Our enthusiasm, however, greatly exceeded our bank account. It seems like every time we turn around it's been more equipment to buy. Bottom line, we just don't have the money to implement the dream. As much as we want to, we can't afford to. We didn't start The Mountain Laurel to become millionaires, we started the paper to do something we enjoyed and for us that's interviewing old people and touting the beauty of the Blue Ridge.
By the time we managed to scrape together enough cash to get the land, it seemed impossible for us to build without selling off part of it or taking on partners who would view it as a prime commercial location and would expect to develop it to "maximum potential" to return , rightfully so, an acceptable profit on their investment. We half-heartedly explored these possibilities but just couldn't bring ourselves to proceed in a manner that would spoil its natural beauty.
On one of Jim's visits earlier this spring we were standing outside under a canopy of stars and discussing our goals, when suddenly an idea formed that we are hoping will make dreams possible. By the time you read this, the paperwork should be completed and The Laurel Foundation, a non profit organization, will be a reality. We're not sure exactly how we're going to raise the money right now. We're don't know enough about grants and such to even know how to start applying for them. We're probably crazy to even attempt it because it's going to take over $30,000.00 to get the foundation started, and even then it's going to be a struggle.
Jim is a nationally recognized television cameraman and producer. The quality of his work can't be described by words. I've seen him stand for an hour bent over his camera focusing on a dragon fly or a small stream, just to get the right shot. His work has been featured on Sunday Morning With Charles Kurault and on the CBS national network news. He's an artist with a camera and has an eye for capturing the flavor of the Blue Ridge. Jim has said it would be the dream of his lifetime to have the chance to travel throughout the mountains capturing on film the memories of mountain old people and the scenery that is a part of their lives. In order to make that dream come true, he is willing to take a most substantial cut in salary. We're willing to devote our lives to this goal, if we can only raise the money for the video equipment and then a building to house this living museum. We hope to deed the ten acres owned by The Mountain Laurel to The Laurel Foundation in order to assure that it shall forever remain as close to its natural state as possible. It will be a place where folks can gather on a Sunday afternoon and sit beneath a shade tree and listen to a fiddle play or walk beside a stream and see a lady slipper bloom.
We know the dream is a big one, but we think it is something worth working for. The everyday lives of mountain people were forged with individualism and tempered with mountain pride. They serve as a link to an American past that is quickly being forgotten.
We hope you can see it in your heart to help make this dream a reality. If you can, we will appreciate it. The Laurel Foundation is being formed as a non-profit organization so that all donations will be tax deductible. The names of those who contribute will be printed each month unless anonymity is requested.
Share the dream and bequeath a legacy of Blue Ridge memories for generations yet to come.
Please mail contributions & correspondence to:
The Laurel Foundation
Meadows of Dan, Virginia 24120