Thursday, September 15, 2005

Given the terrible devastation and death toll of the past few weeks, I hope no one will think it inappropriate to acknowledge and grieve for one gentle soul's departure.

Charlie and Laurel Powell are two of the sweetest folks I've ever had the good luck to know in my lifetime. I first met Charlie at the annual Necon -- a semi-private horror writers convention held in Rhode Island every summer -- and we bonded almost immediately on a primal level. Charlie was five years my elder, and an unapologetic jock (he taught phys-ed for a living), but we both loved books of all kinds, horror in all forms, and we were both, after all, Vermonters. We also had many mutual friends, primary among them my dear amigo Joe Citro and one-time writing partner Stanley Wiater (Stanley and I co-authored Comic-Book Rebels). I'd tried for a couple of years to get Charlie and Laurel over to the Bissette hacienda when Joe was visiting, but it never panned out.

Charlie was born in St. Albans and grew up in Brattleboro, graduating from Brattleboro Union High School, before gravitating to the other side of the Connecticut River to live and teach. Laurel didn't seem to care much for horror, but she welcomed me into their circle of associates and friends with open arms. They're both among the kindest folks on God's Green Earth, and one of the treats of living in southern VT since first meeting Charlie and Laurel was the frequency with which we'd run into one another at the local flea markets and at First Run Video (where I worked the floor and was for years a co-manager and buyer). Charlie's sturdy frame and powerful build stood out in a crowd, but usually it was his red hair and beard I'd catch a glimpse of first, immediately followed by flashes of those eagle eyes and his broad, toothy grin.

Over the years, usually in the orbit of his book collecting/acquisition/selling interests, Charlie helped me countless times -- sometimes with advice, sometimes with a recommendation (or warning), often by tracking down some rarity I was seeking for one project or another. This also kept us in infrequent but always warm contact, and it was always a treat to see Charlie and/or Laurel under any circumstances. Charlie's devotion to Laurel was always evident, too, in good times and in stretches of rough health; whatever the circumstances, though, they forever carried themselves warmth, humor, and grace. Good people, good company, always and forever. Last year Charlie commented on the gray he and I were showing in our beards; true enough.

I've been avoiding the flea markets this summer (in hopes of stemming the flow of acquisitions into my already over-flowing library), but fortunately I did catch one of the first Wilmington flea markets this spring. Charlie and Laurel were there, per usual, but Charlie was walking with two canes. They had sad news... we talked for a bit, exchanged embraces, and I promised to send a box or three of videos their way, if only to save 'em a trip to First Run. Since I'm no longer at the video store, and my taste in films was forever harsher than theirs, it took some time this summer to gather a good enough variety of non-horrific videos for a fair-sized box, but Marj mailed out a big care package to Charlie and Laurel about two weeks back (Marj works in NH; Charlie and I always found it astounding how a letter from VT to NH or vice-versa could take three weeks to get to its destination, so Marj mailing from NH to Charlie and Laurel in NH was the best route).

Alas, too little, too late.

This morning's Brattleboro Reformer features a photo of Charlie, smiling and in his prime, on its Obit page. Charlie passed in his and Laurel's home on Tuesday night with Laurel and his family at his side.

On my way home from errands this morn, a flash of red in the still-green foliage -- a cardinal flying by -- brought back Charlie for a second: his smile, his voice, his presence. Fleeting, and gone, but never forgotten. My heart goes out to Laurel and all who knew and loved Charlie; our world is a lesser place today and hereafter.

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