By Bob Heafner © 2015
Online: September, 2015
At 8:00am on Monday, August 31, 2015, The Mountain Laurel lost a part of its heart, with the passing of Charlotte Dawn Heafner. In the early days of The Mountain Laurel she was the quiet one who got things done. The Mountain Laurel would not have survived without her hard work, dedication and determination.
Soon after Charlotte Heafner, Susan Thigpen and I, started The Mountain Laurel back in 1983, reporters and TV crews started beating a path to the old mountain farm house that served as our office and home. They interviewed Susan and me because we were listed as the editor and publisher and Charlotte, who was quiet and shy by nature, tended to stay in the background out of the limelight.
But, Charlotte was busy everywhere, from helping with the paste-up to managing the growing subscriber list and sorting the papers for mailing. Her title was Circulation Manager but she did so much more. Her role in The Mountain Laurel was in many ways more challenging than the roles played by Susan and me.
She started maintaining the subscriber list by writing each subscriber's name and address along with their subscription start date and expiration date on 3"x5" index cards. Soon she had box after box of little green index card storage boxes sitting in her work area. Each month she would go through each box and, using our electronic typewriter, type the names and addresses on plain 8.5" x 11" paper. These sheets would be cut into "labels" for each subscriber; they were applied to the papers with wide clear cellophane tape.
As the first year ended and it was time for our first renewal notices to be mailed out, we were in a real quandary. The paper "labels" were getting out of hand and becoming so time consuming that Charlotte barely had time to mail one issue before she had to start typing the "labels" for the next issue.
Freeman Cockram, owner of Floyd Farm Service, had won a Commodore 64 computer by being a top retailer of Stihl Chainsaws. We traded Freeman advertising space for the Commodore 64 and soon Charlotte was, maintaining the subscriber list on the computer; that was in 1984.
In addition to maintaining the subscriber list and sorting the papers for mailing, she prepared gift cards and complimentary copies for mailing, cooked meals, looked after the kids, ran errands and helped wherever help was needed. We were all facing similar workloads; that's why I've always seen The Mountain Laurel as a three legged stool, each leg as necessary as the other but now the stool is broken, one of our supports is gone.
Today is the fourth week since Charlotte died; during that time I think every emotion of love, loss and grief has passed through my mind. The Mountain Laurel lost a founder and I lost a part of my soul. She was the kindest, most loving person I have ever known. Her smile could warm a winter night and her eyes sparkled with love.
Writing about her now is not easy. Memories flood my thoughts and my hunt-and-peck typing is hindered by tears that I simply cannot control. I know she is free of the intense suffering that plagued her last several months and my grief is selfish because she is truly better off now.
Charlotte was the epitome of the perfect wife, friend, partner, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. When the grandchildren came to visit her face would light up with one of her beautiful smiles and no matter how bad she felt nothing would matter except the children.
Her love extended to Susan's children and grandchildren and she loved them like her own. Susan's daughter Deedee took off work the day after Charlotte died, explaining to her employer that her, "step-mother" had died. Deedee's son Charles came from Roanoke and Susan and Deedee, along with her daughters, Daisey and Rosie came from Wytheville. Our son Billy was here and our daughter Margaret and our granddaughter Sara. It was unannounced and not a memorial service, just a gathering of people who had been touched by her love and gentle nature.
We promised each other years ago, that we would never let the other go to a nursing home. Thankfully, I was able to keep that promise. She died in our bedroom with me by her side. That's the way she would have wanted to leave. We also agreed back then that there would be no family night, funeral service or memorial service. We didn't want a funeral home involved. Instead we had purchased cremation services and her body was taken directly to the crematorium where after 72 hours she was cremated.
Today her ashes set on a shelf in the bookcase beside her chair surrounded by her favorite family photos, mementos and whatnots. There she will wait for me to join her and then our ashes will be scattered together in Meadows of Dan, Virginia; together again at last and forever.
Shortly before she died she started repeating words over and over. She would say, "Bob, Bob, Bob," sometimes for hours. I had run a short errand one day, while her nurse was with her, and when I got back she was saying Bob and crying. I bent over her chair and gave her a hug and said, "poor baby" and she said, "Bob's baby," three times as she snuggled against my chest. On her last night, as I sat beside her bed holding her hand, she struggled to say her last words; they were, "I love you."
In 2001 when the strokes started, doctors said she might live another five years but they didn't know Charlotte. She was a fighter and she never gave up, not on surviving, and not on me. Through good times and bad times one thing was constant; we never stopped loving each other.
We were married March 24, 1972, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Our marriage lasted over 43 years and our love will last forever.