Larry Gibson and Me
|Us at what I think was the 2010 Changing of the Leaves Festival|
Do I want to write about Larry? Do I want to write about the life-altering impact that he had on my life? Do I want to write this publicly?
I feel that it would be therapeutic to write and it would add to the growing public collection of stories to share it publicly. I want to start where it all started, with the first time I remember meeting him nearly a decade ago.
Although I feel that I should, I do not remember the first time I met Larry on Kayford Mountain in 2003. I know the visit made a huge impact on me, as it was a big part of my dedicating my activism efforts into fighting mountaintop removal back in 2004. I do not, though, remember if Larry was there or not. That simple fact of not remembering if friggin Larry Gibson was there seems to make it obvious that he was not. Larry Gibson was a fellow who carves out a piece of your memory and makes a home in it.
The first memory I actually have of Larry was back in mid-2004 when the Friends of Coal decided to have a meeting with the Department of Homeland Security about just how danged important coal is to our national security. Apparently they either didn't want the DHS to travel very far or they didn't want much protest from those annoying community members in Southern WV so they scheduled the meeting in Shepherdstown, WV (I went to college in that town at the time). While there's a lot of parts to this story - of how Judy Bonds had a boombox blasting AC/DC's Highway to Hell because the coal industry was arguing that they're a "Roadmap to Energy Security" or how my Aunt Becky Lorenz kept blocking traffic to put her sign in front of cars going in / our of the conference location - the most relevant part is my interaction with Larry.
The counter-event that we had was across the road from the industry event (which was in a fancy schmancy hotel) where after speakers and music, we marched up to the fancy hotel to make our voices heard. I remember pretty clearly Larry putting himself right in the front of the march demanding that we press on into the hotel and maybe get arrested. I remember being like…"uhhhh…this isn't in the plan…" and talking him and some other people down since I didn't really know what good it would do. Although I didn't know it then, this interaction of Larry's "torpedoes be damned, let's press on", and my own "what are we doing, what difference will this make", personalities would be repeated daily within a decade.
I remember planning my first July 4th "Mountain Keepers" Music Festival up there and working with him the whole way. This was a badass weekend back in 2007. I remember planning that festival the next year too. While those festival were awesome and amazing and fun and all of that good stuff, I remember much better getting a message in July, 2008 when he asked me to plan the music for his wedding. I remember having to pull over on the shoulder of I-79 because holy shit, I'm planning the music for Larry's wedding and it's not good to drive while I'm crying. I also remember driving to the wedding with friends and being really sure I knew where it was and I didn't need directions and then getting hella lost only to find it when the whole thing was done. The reception was really nice and fun though.
I remember the job interview where I showed up with holes in my sandals and he hired me anyway.
|We chatted logistics A LOT, this time after a rally at the WV State Capitol|
I remember working with him. Directly. Hella directly. He was a President of the Board beyond what any other President of a Board could be or could ever wish to be. How many Board Presidents call their Directors daily, and probably hold themselves back from calling more often, just to find out what was going on? How many board presidents respond to every single phone call - no matter what time it is? How many board presidents act and think with the aggressive wisdom that Larry did? Yeah, board president is the wrong phrase - soul of the organization is the right phrase.
I remember frustration with him, in times of trial, when at the end of a sometimes tense discussion about how shit should run in the organization, he would assure me that things would work out because they had to work out. There was no other alternative to him. He wasn't going to quit, he wasn't going to back down, he was going to do whatever he had to do so that the Keeper of the Mountains Foundation would succeed and Kayford Mountain would be protected.
|Is that a loudspeaker in his hand? Yup. At Appalachia Rising.|
I remember the daily inspirational speeches that he would give after I got hired. In the first six months, these were awesome. In the next six months, it became something I would work through when I had time-sensitive conversations that had to be had within a certain amount of time with him. Whether it be one on one conversations, board meetings, speakers meetings, community meetings, or just plain hanging out - Larry could be counted on for an inspirational talk. This work was his life. Not his life's goal or his life's work or his job or something he was volunteering for - this work was his life.
I remember lots of things. But, there's not simple memories. He cannot be confined to memories. He's not a person who exists in the past tense. He is a person who is a part of us. His home is on Kayford Mountain, but his home is also in each of us. I cannot imagine a day in my life where what I learned from him doesn't make an impact, whether it's known or unknown, on what I do and how I think. There have been so many, so many, stories and photos shown of Larry that are the best testament to the place he's had in thousands of peoples' lives. The image that sticks in my mind the most, though, is a simple image that has a picture of Larry that says, "We are all now Keepers of the Mountains."
Y'know, I always catch myself pluralizing the word "Keeper" in our organization's name. Now it's true. It's on us. It's on all of us. In whatever way we can - whether its through our organization or not - to be Keepers of the Mountains.
There is so much more that can be written. About his deep love for his wife Carol. About his time on Kayford Mountain. About our relationship. About his starting an organization. About the role he's had in escalating direct actions within the Mountaintop Removal Movement. About his push that we're not just against Mountaintop Removal, but against coal. About his outlook on organizing as a whole. About his life - pre movement - in Cleveland and Youngstown. About how the hell a mountain man with a fifth grade education and his family managed to keep the coal industry from taking their land. THERE IS SO MUCH MORE TO WRITE AND RECOLLECT THAT IT'S MIND BOGGLING.
For write now, though, this feels right. This will do. There is no end to what we remember about Larry and no end to home Larry's made for himself in our life. Larry's not a memory, he's for real. He's passed away, but he lives on. Our movement is forever affected by him. We, as people, are forever affected by him. His body has passed on, but he lives in all of us. I say goodbye now to the ability to call him, to see him, to receive guidance from him, to hear funny jokes from him. I say hello to living with his voice inside me until I draw my last breath.
|Yep, that's me dressed up as Larry and my buddy Rory dressed up as Don Blankenship. |
Don't worry, this is for a Keeper of the Mountains Foundation fundraiser.