Charlie Hearon’s Gift
Any poet knows that words are slippery things. So, as I take a moment to set out a few words about the creative gifts of Charles O. Hearon, Jr. it is with the hope that Charlie will read this and accept these humble words as my gift to him in his 96th holiday season.
I first met Charlie in the early summer of 2006 through a neighbor who knew I did some writing and needed work, and knew that Charlie needed someone to type his stories. At the time I had not met very many true Polk County residents. I relied on the few neighbors who I had befriended to help me find my way. Now, Charlie will tell you that he’s a Summer Resident. Since his youth he and his family have spent their summers in Saluda. This may not seem an important distinction to some, but to a poet it is a small crevice to poke around in until a poem or story emerges. Charlie is just such a poet. His first gift to me was to help rekindle the art of poetic observation and begin to really see the little nuances of life in the Carolina foothills.
On the first visit to his Saluda home, I was treated to a tour of his watercolor paintings. After spending proper time to really look at each of the whimsical and colorful pieces that he had framed, I found myself drawn to the train. I suspect it’s because that was my first introduction to the train and its history here. Despite the fact I live along the tracks, I moved here after the train had stopped running. Without someone like Charlie to paint the scenes they remember, newcomers like me would never see that bit of history. As you look at the people and critters in his paintings you also learn a bit about Charlie himself and how he sees the world. You might see folks waiting on visitors arriving by train or climbing a fence to pick apples, and you’ll be introduced to bird dogs, pigs, and an old work mule. There are no grand cascading waterfalls or mountain peaks, but joyful representations of the small wonders of happy creatures. The fine folks at Saluda Senior Center were kind enough allow these paintings a formal showing for the public this past fall. The reception brought a bright and talkative crowd of new and old friends to share stories, including a little bit of friendly teasing from his art teacher about Charlie as a student. I’m not sure which came first with Charlie, the pictures or the stories, but they seem to go hand in hand.
This year has been an eventful one, with not only a gallery show, but the release of his newest book of poems and stories “The Sun’s Gonna Set Pretty Soon.” This is the companion book to his first “do-it-yourself” book of poems and pictures he created as a young man, called “The Sun’s Gonna Shine in My Back Door Some Day.” The first book was written ten years before he met his “Good Wife Sister Savarese” and the second was collected and completed after her death because, as he states in the foreword, “It was just something I had to do.” Like his paintings, the stories and poems collected focus on the people and critters that have touched his heart. Through hearing and reading and typing these stories for him I have met the Lookers, Tubers, and Walkers as well as those who have offered their help to him like the Mobile Meals Man and the Wood Thrush. Each piece is like a little prayer of thanks for the blessings offered in these glimpses of life’s simple moments. The book was celebrated with a signing at Pace’s Store in Saluda and has sold there well enough this summer to merit a second printing already.
I may not know everything about living in this part of the country, but I certainly have a new perspective and appreciation for what makes this little nook of the world special. Working on these stories with Charlie also helped to light my way back into my own writing. He reminded me that sometimes the most important lessons lie hidden in the most common events. Since finishing the book, I’ve started writing for the paper and haven’t had as much time to spend working on Charlie’s stories. However, we do have a few more pieces to finish in the coming year. Since I don’t have any family here to read my articles, I believe Charlie has been my best source of praise and encouragement for my own writing. So, forgive me as I close this article with a personal note.
Happy Birthday Charlie, it’s been a wonderful year. Thank you for being a source of local history and an inspiration. I hope the Christmas season and coming year bring you many more joyful moments to capture in poetry.