When Altie Gordon’s husband, Charles, passed away on March 18, nine days shy of their 60th wedding anniversary, the Roanoke Rapids native knew she’d lost not only a lifelong friend and companion, but an irretrievable part of herself.
“I’m not grieving because he’s gone. I know he’s in a better place. It’s just lonely. After being with someone for 60 years, it’s like taking your arm off,” she said of the man she married on Easter Saturday in 1948.
Friday morning, the pain of her loss was eased a bit thanks to an outpouring of love and caring from the youngsters and staff at Belmont Elementary School, which backs up to the Gordons’ home.
They showed their concern for Gordon, her loss and their admiration for her Charles by erecting two signs along the fence at the back of the school, looking into the Gordon’s Ransome Street home.
The posters, a bright yellow and black-lettered sign that spells out the message “We miss you Mr. Gordon,” and another covered with student signatures and inscribed, “Love, Your Belmont Friends,” pay tribute to the couple who are beloved by the students and staff alike.
For four years, Altie Gordon has worked in the Place to Play after-school program at Clara Hearne.
Charles did his part with his tenacious willingness to aid the children during their recess play in his own unique fashion. He would patrol the perimeter of the school’s fence retrieving toys, balls, books and any other objects the children may have lost.
“He was out there everyday,” a neighbor remembered, “he’d walk up and down that fence with a big smile on his face and collect all the toys, then he’d toss them back to the children. They just loved it.”
Belmont Elementary teacher Allison Burton, who initiated the idea for the posters several weeks ago, said the project was simply a way to let Altie know that her husband is missed and that both students and teachers are thinking about them.
Burton, who often saw Charles during her trips to the school’s playground, remembers him fondly as someone who “just loved the kids. He was someone who was always there.”
While Charles was known to Belmont students simply as the man who retrieved their toys and handed them back with a kind word and a smile, Altie, or “Miss Altie,” as she’s known to her 21 Place to Play students, remembers the outgoing, gregarious man who never failed to tell her he loved her before heading to bed each night.
“He didn’t meet a stranger, he could talk to anybody,” she said Friday, clearing her throat and fighting back the first signs of tears while standing in front of the student’s posters in her back yard.
After retiring from his position as head of maintenance at Caledonia Prison 30 years ago, the outdoor enthusiast took up hunting and fishing, but devoted most of his free time to helping his wife keep up the yard and navigate the ever changing complexities of modern technology. “I can’t even pump gas anymore,” she said with a grin, “Pumping gas and taking care of the lawn were his jobs. Taking care of the house was mine.”
In his later years, Charles, who would have turned 82 in July, watched with Altie as the wooded lot behind their home was turned into a modern elementary school, taking it all in from his ring-side seat as the children played behind the fence.
Now another generation of those children have shown their appreciation for both her late husband’s generosity and kind spirit and her own hard work on their behalf.
Altie can only shake her head and smile as she gazes at the posters.
“It’s beyond words. It just makes me love them more. If he could see it, I know he would cry.”