The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Our 8th Anniversary

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1991

Issue: March, 1991

Eight anniversary issue - the first home of The Mountain Laurel. Front Cover photograph of March 1991 edition.Eight anniversary issue - the first home of The Mountain Laurel. Front Cover photograph of March 1991 edition.March 1991, marks the eighth anniversary of The Mountain Laurel. It's been a long journey from 1983 to 1991, with many memorable events along the way.

We look back with both sadness and happiness as we remember the old friends that are no longer with us and pause a moment in retrospect to contemplate their memories and how they enriched our lives and countless others.

Looking back, we have to laugh at ourselves and the many mistakes we have made, especially at first. In 1983, Bob and Charlotte Heafner and I started The Mountain Laurel with little more than an idea and a dream of what we hoped it would be. We were naive enough to not realize that anyone with experience in publishing would have said it could never succeed. None of us had ever worked on even a high school newspaper, much less had any other type of publishing experience. We just knew that we loved the type of stories we wanted to print and that it was next to impossible to find them in magazines or other publications.

We wanted to publish a magazine, but couldn't afford the much more expensive format. Once we started The Mountain Laurel, though, we found that a black and white newspaper format seemed fitting for the type of stories we presented. We printed color in one issue of the paper   no one even noticed or mentioned it. It was then we realized that our readers were just that   readers   people who were interested in the stories first, last, and always!

Before the first issue was printed, we spent a lot of time trying to think of a name for the publication, but none of the names we came up with seemed right. One day we were returning home (from where I can't remember) and as I started to open the car door, a name came into my mind, a perfect name. "The Mountain Laurel", I said, right in the middle of everyone else's conversation. Conversation ceased and everyone just looked at me, and without explanation, Bob said, "that's perfect." Knowing the word "laurel" had a double meaning was what made it "right." Webster's Dictionary defines laurel as "honor and distinction," and perfectly describes the mountain people and stories we love so well. Laurel is also a beautiful shrub which blossoms across the mountains each spring.

I immediately sat down with my pen and a piece of paper to see if I could draw a mast head logo for the paper, and the one we came up with is still in use today.

The day before our first print date, we laid out the first ever issue of The Mountain Laurel. It took all day and all night long! I typed the copy in column widths on our first piece of equipment   an electronic typewriter we nicknamed ET. ET was the letters before the serial number on the typewriter and also, it was about as alien to me as the little character in the movie of the same name. I was in my late thirties and hadn't typed since high school.

The first issue was one long procession of Bob finding a mistake or putting something down crooked with a glue stick and me going back to the typewriter and retyping the whole thing. By two or three o'clock in the morning, our frustrations were starting to show and we were all wondering it we would ever get the first issue together.

By 6:30 am, the issue, all twelve pages of it, was ready and we started for the printers in Mount Airy. They had told us to bring all the ads we sold and they would typeset them and the headlines for us, and that it would probably only take an hour or two. We had sold more ads than they had anticipated and we worked until 7:00 pm to finish the first issue. By that time it was too late to print, so we were told to come back the next day. Needless to say, by the time we got home that night we were completely bushed.

The next day, we were there as the presses started to roll and grabbed the first few copies as they came off the press. It was an experience that is right up there next to giving birth! The issue we held in our hands was our newborn child (we had certainly gone through "labor" pains).

About a year later, we got our first computer equipment. A Commodore 64 which we traded advertising space to Freeman Cockram (Cockram's General Store) for. We had to get out the manual to find out where the off/on switch was located. It was used to keep track of subscribers, print labels and bill for advertising.

When desktop publishing became news and Apple came out with its first laser printer, we were among the first to go see the demonstrations. It was a marvel beyond our wildest dreams (and budget). In December of 1985, we got a call from a computer firm who said, if we would buy a laser printer before the first of the year, we could have it for half price. We scraped together the money for the laser printer and it sat in a box until June of 1986, until we could scrape up enough money for the Mac Plus computer to run it. Every issue of The Mountain Laurel since that date has been laid out on that system. It's been as faithful as an old hound.

We have experimented a little with the format of The Mountain Laurel, but it has basically remained the same. We think of our subscribers as our family of readers and many of you tell us that an issue of The Mountain Laurel is like a "letter from home."

At first we tried to sell as much advertising as we could, and had a staff of three advertising salesmen at one time. The expense of salaries and telephone bills were enormous. In 1988, when Laurel Publications ceased publication, we (the original three of us) resumed printing The Mountain Laurel through the non profit Laurel Foundation. Since then, it has been a struggle with tightening economies, but we are still doing our best to keep the "little paper" going.

All of us have worked at outside jobs and "fed" the paper out of our own pockets over the last couple of years. We no longer actively solicit advertising, but accept it if advertisers contact us to do so.

We apologize for the erratic delivery of The Mountain Laurel, but hope to do better in the future. We printed the September issue but, due to personal financial difficulties, didn't have the funds for postage. We had to suspend printing until this issue, missing the October, November, December, January and February issues. All subscribers will still get 12 issues for each year's subscription. Five (5) months have been added to each subscription thus extending all subscribers expiration dates to cover the issues we've missed.

We're proud to announce that the third in the series of Laurel Library publications, is now available; "The BACKROADS of Southwest Virginia." It is a 32 page paper with no advertising and includes tours that were printed in The Mountain Laurel from 1985 until 1990. The tours crisscross every one of the nineteen counties of Southwest Virginia and traverses some of the most little known and beautiful areas in the Blue Ridge.

We regret that circumstances have forced us to increase subscription rates from $10.00 to $15.00, per year. The postal increase in February raised the amount of postage to mail an issue of The Mountain Laurel by over 30%. Pieces larger than letter size were struck the hardest blow by the latest postal increases. We can only hope by the US Postal Service raising the rates by so much, that the speed and service in delivering your paper will improve.

In conclusion, we would like to thank every one of you, our family of readers, for your shared love of the Blue Ridge and its people, and for your patience with us, as we humbly try to present these wonderful stories with "honor and distinction."