Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Charles Grafton had a thing for Christmas. He was the biscuit maker at the Hardee’s on Cloverdale near Baptist Hospital, the fast-food restaurant with the large, colorful reindeer leaping around on the roof.

Grafton always sang at work, rhythm and blues like Marvin Gaye and the O’Jays. Whenever the display went up, he’d switch over to Christmas carols.
“Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it snow.”

He liked the catchy holiday tunes. That was one of his favorites.

Hardee’s might seem like a transient sort of place. Drive through and you’re gone. Not for Grafton. He made biscuits there for 15 years.

His shift started at 5 a.m., and Grafton was always there, in pressed white trousers and a clean, white shirt.

Between batches of biscuits, he’d step out into the restaurant, and joke around with his customers. Some there are as loyal to this place by the interstate as Grafton was.

“He’d see us come in here every morning and step out,” said Don Palmer, a maintenance worker with the city’s recreation and parks department “We were just joking about him, and then to come in that morning and find out he’d been killed on his way to work.”

Called to see if power was on

Friday morning after this month’s ice storm, Beth Pierson left her house about 5. She’s part of the morning kitchen crew at Hardee’s. It didn’t even occur to her to stay home from work.

She helped open the store that morning a little later than usual.

The phone rang, just before 6. Grafton wanted to make sure the power was back on. He was on his way.

“He said, ‘I’ll be there shortly,’” Pierson said. “I said, ‘Take your time.’”

The roads were slick Dec. 6, especially before the sun came up. Grafton skidded on black ice.

Police said that his car hit a concrete guardrail on Business 40 and slid 40 feet down an embankment. He died instantly. The city native and graduate of Reynolds High School was 48.

When the pace of fast-food life made everyone cross, Grafton would work his magic. Sing a little. Tease a little. Make a batch of cinnamon buns with little dollar signs traced in the sugar.

“Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it snow.”

Making biscuits can be a chore.

Grafton made it an art.

A fresh start in life

Helen Jones met Grafton in 1993, the year she moved here from Virginia, making a fresh start of life.

She had just divorced. She found an apartment on Academy Street, walking distance from Hardee’s, where she was a shift supervisor.

Christmas rolled around and Grafton would come to work with his usual Christmas cheer. “Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it snow.”

“Are you going to put up a tree,” he asked her.

“No,” she told him. “Not this year.”

Her son was off at his dad’s and she was broke.

Her family was gathering as always at her mother’s place way out in the country not far from Galax. But she had no car and no other way to get there.

There didn’t seem much point in getting out her boxed tree, just to sit there and stare at it alone.

Her doorbell rang Christmas Eve. “You’ve got to have Christmas,” Grafton said.

He made her haul out the plastic tree and her Christmas knickknacks, and they listened to Christmas music.

“That was my Christmas,” said Jones, now a Hardee’s manager. “That meant more to me than getting a gift. That’s the reason it breaks my heart that he’s gone.”

Hardee’s is taking up a collection through Jan. 5 to help Grafton’s family with burial expenses. He is survived by five children and his fiancee, Doris Jones.