The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Thanksgiving from the Heart - A Message from The Mountain Laurel

By Bob Heafner © 1991

Issue: November, 1991

To understand and appreciate this Thanksgiving message you must be familiar with The Mountain Laurel's origins. It was born in 1983 in an old two story rented farm house on a mountain back road in Meadows of Dan, Virginia. Three of us (Susan Thigpen, Charlotte Heafner and Bob Heafner) pooled all our resources, $2,000.00, and by the time the first edition had been printed and mailed we had less than $50.00 left to our names. If folks had not subscribed in unprecedented numbers we would have been destitute. Needless to say the subscriptions were forthcoming. During that first year the growth of distribution was staggering. Ironically, this phenomenal growth created enormous financial burdens. Our expenses were upfront and our income was often 90 days away and we simply didn't have the funds necessary to carry our accounts receivables. Many small businesses know how frustrating this can be.

In 1985, on the advice of an attorney and an accountant, we incorporated as Laurel Publications, Inc., and sold a limited amount of stock, but that didn't work out and the corporation's board of directors decided to cease publication in 1988. The three of us, the original founders, asked for and received permission to continue publication as a non-profit publication. Since then we have simply endured and survived mostly with the income we've derived from part time jobs.

Over the years we've missed issues but, by adding those months to expiration dates, we've always seen to it that every subscriber got the full number of issues for which they paid. Issues are often late and on more than one occasion we've had a new edition ready to mail but had to wait till the money came in before we could take them to the post office. Postage expense alone is nearly $10,000.00 per year and that, combined with printing, office expenses and the cost of the 40,000 to 50,000 miles of driving it takes each year, all add up to a lot of money.

One of my part time jobs was the position of executive director of a tourism organization in Southwest Virginia but we had to furnish the organization with computers and toll free telephones and eventually those expenses amounted to more than we were getting, and more than they could afford to pay, so I had to resign. During this time period Susan and Charlotte had to get out The Mountain Laurel by themselves and the work loads were more than any two people could handle. It was then that we had to limit circulation to "subscribers only" in order to reduce work load.

We were lucky enough to land a contract to answer information requests for the Blue Ridge Parkway Association and supply them with computer services. Charlotte supplies most of the labor for this contract, which we still have. Susan has been providing typesetting services to one of the local printers here in Wytheville and that has enabled us to get most of our small press printing (seeds, envelopes and such) without having to put out any cash. Unfortunately, they can't print on newsprint. Susan also provides typesetting, layout and editorial services to The Blue Ridge Digest, a travel publication published in Clyde, North Carolina. Recently a local insurance agency hired me on a part time basis to manage their computer network. Needless to say, 60 to 80 hour work weeks are not unusual for any of us.

These part time jobs have enabled us to subsidize The Mountain Laurel and continue publishing. Even with all of the part time jobs, however, the finances are still tight. We've had to cancel health insurance, borrow on life insurance, do without medical and dental needs and, in short, make some personal sacrifices. I'm sure you wonder why on earth would anyone work this hard and stay this broke just to put out a little tabloid newspaper? Sometimes when there is no balance in the bank and bills are due or Charlotte needs a doctor or Susan needs a dentist or one of our children or grandchildren needs something, I ask myself the same thing. Charlotte, Susan and I all go through periodic moments of questioning which invariably ends for each of us with a renewed resolve to continue.

Why? When I try to explain why we skimp, cut corners and do without in order to continue publishing The Mountain Laurel, such a flood of reasons come to mind that it is hard to put them into words. Is it the letter from an elderly person who writes saying they visit the mailbox daily looking forward to the old memories it will rekindle? Is it the young person who writes saying they found the courage to endure a trying time because of an elderly lady's recollections of enduring hardships in her youth? Is it simply because the days of conversation, when people sat around a stove, at home or in a country store, and told stories and swapped old memories, are almost gone. Is it because that here in these mountains things are much like they were but won't be for much longer and we believe that somehow or someway as much of it as possible must be recorded? Is it because we still believe in old time basic values like right and wrong, good manners and simple courtesy which seem to have no place in the modern world? Is it because somewhere out there on a mountain back road in an old weathered farm house sits an old man or woman who knew a different world and no one has yet asked them, "What do you remember?"

For all of those reasons and for other reasons as basic as those that dictate mountain streams will run downhill or mountain laurels will bloom each spring, we are compelled to somehow get out the next issue. We don't feel like overly dedicated people and we certainly don't think we're crazy but some things in life are just more important than financial rewards and personal possessions. As long as there is a remnant of the Blue Ridge of yesterday in an old person's memory or an old time story left untold, we'll do all within our power to print them in The Mountain Laurel.

November is a time for taking inventory of the harvest here in the Blue Ridge, and that is what we at The Mountain Laurel have been doing. Putting out The Mountain Laurel isn't much different than farming except our seeds are the bits and pieces of old memories and our harvest is the recollections of times past that they trigger for our readers. The rewards for our efforts are not monetary but some things are more important than money - Like the reader who said, "I hadn't thought about that in years" or as one lady who sent a gift had us write on the card "See if this doesn't bring back memories." If this publication can "bring back" a memory and, in the process, put a smile on a worried brow then we feel our crop has been good.

I've often sat in one of the old straight back chairs at Mayberry Trading Post while Miss Addie Wood thumbed through a new issue. She would pause often and tell of some event or person who an article had triggered a forgotten memory of. A memory that perhaps would have remained lost, tucked away in a corner of her subconscious had it not been for a gentle jog from The Mountain Laurel. I've often thought that an entire issue of The Mountain Laurel could come from those recollections Miss Addie had while reminiscing through a new edition and her nearly 90 years. Like Miss Addie, events and personalities from my own long forgotten past are often rekindled and brought to mind by an article in The Mountain Laurel. More often than not they bring with them a smile. Occasionally they are accompanied by a tear, but smile or tear, those old memories are cherished.

I'll always enjoy old memories. Recalling old friends and special moments from long ago. The memories of a simpler time are often viewed through rose colored glasses and somehow the hardships, when screened by the mist of time, don't seem a high price at all for the simple pleasures those days provided. As we get older, the cherished memories of those long ago days are safe harbors where one can escape, in moments of quiet reflection.

This Thanksgiving we're especially thankful for you, the loyal folks who subscribe to The Mountain Laurel. Without your support a wealth of old memories would have already been lost and with each new issue of The Mountain Laurel another batch of old memories are saved. For the most part, they're not the things you'd find in history books - they're just old memories. And whether they're inspiring, humorous or sad, they're often our last remaining link to the way things were. Thankfully, more often than not, they bring back a forgotten moment from the cobwebbed corners of our own minds; a moment that might have slipped into oblivion were it not for a line or word from The Mountain Laurel.

To our family of subscribers everywhere, whose subscription dollars made another year possible, and the writers, who shared their memories, we thank you. We sincerely appreciate your patience and understanding as we try to bring forth the seeds of a few old memories every month. Our trials and tribulations are insignificant and not so different from those faced by generations of mountain farmers. In fact, we feel fortunate to have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving; the harvest of old mountain memories has been good this year.