Sid’s Granddaughter

Sid’s Granddaughter

It’s been several months since my grandfather, Sid Moye, passed away. I’ve been meaning to write about it ever since, but the wound has been too raw and it has taken me a while to figure out what I want to say about it. It seems like I think about him every day, miss him every day, in some way or another. Sometimes I will come across something that reminds me of him and I will find myself momentarily debilitated with grief. For me, it has mostly been an internal suffering. I’m not good at talking about such things, and most people don’t know what to say anyway when you say, seemingly out of the blue, that you miss a deceased loved one. I know I’ve been in that situation before. What do you say? Do you express your condolences? Do you tell them you understand, even though you really can’t know what that person is going through?

And so, it has been a struggle to find the words. If I just told you all about him, and I could surely write a book on that topic, it would be a good story. It would be a worthy story. But that would be only his story, and what I need to tell is a story of my own, a story intertwined with his story. I am still not sure that I am ready to tell this story, but it has been aching inside of me for too long. Now is the time.

Let’s start at the beginning. I never called him “grandpa” or “Sid,” I called him “Poppy.” It always reminded me of the red flowers, and he lived up to that name. He was always full of life and grew strong and vibrant in the sunshine. He called me “Annie” instead of Rachel, because of my middle name, Anne. He said it was because of the “e” on the end, which he claimed should be pronounced instead of silent. But he always spelled it with an “i” on birthday cards and Christmas presents. This, he told me, was so that other people didn’t get confused. He was, and remains, the only person to ever call me Annie.

Although he was often humorous and kind, he was just as often stern and too serious. He was prone to black moods, much the same as myself, when he could not quite express to the rest of us how he needed things to go in his life. His frustrations were always visible in his face, but he seldom shared them. If he did share them, he would find a way to do it in some comical or philosophical manner that detached them from himself, and often somehow brought everything back to growing beans and potatoes.

He loved everything to do with nature. Never once did he let a walk in the woods go to waste. It was always an opportunity to express to his walking companion how beautiful everything around us was, how in love with all of it he was. We would hike to some high spot that overlooked the valley and he would pause, resting against a fence post or a tree, and usually he would quote some famous author or poet, or he would look out with wonder and ask aloud if I could see how pretty it all was. Often, I said very little during these exchanges. It was more profitable to keep quiet and listen. He was a sage imparting his wisdom to me and I was his keen disciple.

Sometimes these musings would be about people instead of nature. He would talk about my grandmother, my Nana, and tell me how pretty she was. He would say that he was still in love with her after all these years. Whether she liked it or not, he would sometimes add, which was always funny because anyone with eyes and ears knows that Nana was, and is, plenty in love with him. He knew it too, of course, but I think some part of him needed reassurance on occasion, because he always loved people so completely and passionately, but perhaps none so much as his Dana.

On several occasions, he told me the story of how he and my Nana met, how they decided to build a family together and be happy, and how glad he was for it. Then he would say, “now don’t tell your Nana I said that.” And Nana would tell me the same story, almost word for word, when she and I were off together somewhere and she would follow it up with, “now don’t tell Bud that I said that.”

Bud was her name for him, another endearment gone by the wayside with Annie and Poppy. Sid, Bud, Daddy. Poppy – he had a lot of names. But he was just Poppy to me.

Poppy gave me books, wild flowers, garden plants and once, a little gosling I named Feather, who was a dreadful creature but I did love the silly thing. He gave me a pair of rabbits when I decided I wanted to start raising them. Most of all, he gave me inspiration. If my well ran dry, it only took a visit to the valley to fill me full of mirth and wonder again.

Evenings with my grandparents were the best. We would sit on the back porch until the sun went down, just talking. He would tell me to take care of my brothers and cousins, to be their steady rock in the world, because family was important to him. He felt it was the oldest child’s duty to care for the younger children. We would talk about which seeds to plant in the garden, or whether or not he should invest in a milk cow. He loved Jersey cows. Sometimes he would tell stories about his life, or about distant family relations who may or may not have ever existed. Or he might tell me a joke he’d told me a hundred times before, or bring up something interesting he’d heard on NPR that he thought was worthy of discussion.

When it was dark out, we would retire to the living room. Nana would fix us each a bourbon and coke, which we would sip while watching BBC on the television. If Monty Python and the Holy Grail came on, we would watch it all the way through, no matter that we’d seen it many times before, and he would laugh and laugh as though it was the first time.

Nana would be doing the dishes on the kitchen and yell something at us that didn’t quite hear. Poppy would look at me and ask, “what did she say?” And I would shrug my shoulders and we would turn back to our program and go back to laughing.

That he was an activist almost goes without saying. He always did what he felt was right, even if it made life harder. He never shirked what he felt was his duty. So it didn’t surprise me, really, when he wanted to join in acts of civil disobedience against Mountaintop Removal coal mining. What could possibly be worse for him to endure than the destruction of a mountain? The mountain was the high point where he stopped for a rest and surveyed all the joys of his life. The mountain represented the pinnacle of happiness and growth and love. It was a divine figure for him. Of course he was willing to walk across an invisible line and get arrested in defense of the mountains.

But he was worried about it as he and I drove to the action where he would ultimately be arrested for an act of nonviolent, symbolic civil disobedience. He wondered if it was the wrong thing to do. He worried that the worst case scenario would happen, somehow, and he would make things hard for the rest of us. I did the only thing that I could think of to do. I assured him that I had a good feeling about it, and that I thought he needed to do it.

So he did, and then I was stuck by myself in the midst of a crowd of people I didn’t know from Adam as my Poppy was driven to jail in Beckley, and strangers kept hugging me and asking if I was “Sid’s granddaughter.” For the next several hours until my stepfather met up with me in Beckley, where a couple of caring folks drove me, I was a nervous wreck. I’d never been a social person and crowds scared me. Being lost with so many people I didn’t know was terrifying.

And then it seemed like everyone knew who Poppy was, and all of these new and wonderful people thought he was great. They were inspired by him. They came to visit the valley just to see him, to gain a little of his kindness and wisdom, to walk in the woods with him for a little while and learn what he was all about. I was so very proud of him. He encouraged the rest of our family to take a stand against Mountaintop Removal. We were unified in a common cause.

Needless to say, this was all a catalyst for the metamorphosis my life would undertake in the next few years. I started attending college with a cause, a reason to take a stand, an identity. I slowly, painfully came out of my shell. I participated in actions with my fellow activists. I made dozens of new friends. Poppy was at the center of it all.

Watching him as he grew ill and lost his old vim and vigor was one of the most painful experiences of my life. It hurt him so much when he was no longer capable of working all day in his garden or keeping up with his little farm. It hurt him when he was too sick to go to actions and festivals and gatherings. He wanted to one day just walk up to his garden and die there, at peace, looking out over the valley with wonder in his blue, blue eyes.

That’s not how it goes when you’re sick like he was – when you can hardly breathe, when the lack of oxygen and the pain medication slowly eats away at your consciousness. He sat in his chair, attached to an oxygen tank, and sometimes he had good days when he knew where he was and was happy to be with us. But a lot of the time he had bad days as he very gradually suffocated, his lungs losing strength every day.

It wasn’t in the hospital, at least. He was in his home, which was a minor miracle. He was in his bed when he passed away, with all of us standing around him, all of us wishing for one last joke or story, but all of us hoping he wouldn’t be in pain anymore. And then he wasn’t in pain. He wasn’t there at all. And the enormity of it all hit me and I couldn’t take it. I snapped, and I screamed and cried and failed to form any coherent words until I was just too tired to be distraught anymore. But all I could think was, I don’t have him anymore and that doesn’t make sense. Where is he? Why isn’t he here with me, telling me to “dry it up” and knuckle down? No more sage words, no more stories, no more wrinkly, sunny smiles. No more tobacco smoke and black coffee on the back porch. No more bourbon and BBC. No more walks in the woods.

It’s still running through my head, even now. It hardly ever let’s up. I am surrounded by people missing him, grieving for him, and I am selfish in my own grief. I want to scream at friends who knew him, “stop it, you didn’t know him like I did! How can you be sad like I am? It wasn’t part of you that died with him. You still have all of your soul, all yourself, but mine is torn in half now. There is me and Poppy, and there is just me. All I have now is just me. The other half is gone and how dare you say that you understand?”

But that’s not fair and it’s just my grief talking. I should be proud of the legacy that he left behind, all of the people he touched, and I am. I am so proud of him. But I am too much like him, and sometimes it is hard for me to express my frustrations, just like it was for him. Most of the time, it hurts too much to hear someone else talk about him and how wonderful he was, but it’s impossible to explain it out loud. Sometimes I just end up screaming and venting about it to some unfortunate family member, someone else who is grieving and doesn’t know what to do any more than I do.

What is the conclusion to this story? I still don’t know. I’m still raw with sadness, a quivering mess. One day, I hope that I am healed enough to tell his story to everyone who will listen. I hope I will be glad to hear someone else speak his name, to admire him and look up to him like I always did. I think that when that day comes, I will know that everything he was and did meant something on a grander scale than I could have imagined. But I think that he would want someone to always keep the story grounded, to keep the sadness and the stubbornness and the humanity. He was a strong man, but he was only a man. And this story I have written here is the part of that man that belonged to me.

Yard Sailing

I’ve lived in Appalachia my whole life and if there’s one tradition that has had the most impact on me, it’s the tradition of yard sales and flea markets. As soon as Winter loosens its grip on the region, receding into pleasant springtime, everyone in my neck of the woods starts to feel the itch. Our eyes search the roadsides for spreads and tables laden with dishes and pillows and socks and dollar store figurines. In other places, it may be that being the person to purchase the most expensive purse is a point of pride. In Appalachia, the proudest among us is the person who finds that same purse at a sale for a buck-fifty.

Some of us pack up our cheap finds and set up ourselves at a flea market, making two or three times what we originally paid, though that doesn’t add up to much in the long run. Others market their finds online or rent spaces in antique malls. Still others hoard things up, packing their basements and garages full of used Tupperware and pictures of Jesus, hoping that one day we will be glad that we saved such things.

For my part, I have a compulsive need to stop at every yard sale that I see. I’ve been yard sale shopping since I was tiny. My oldest and dearest toy, a large plastic horse that once was on a rocker or bungee or something of the sort, was a yard sale purchase when I was two years old. The story goes that I cried so bitterly for it, my parents spent their last few dollars at the time to buy it for me.

It never bothered me how many of my belongings came from yard sales. The more you shop at yard sales, the more you realize that it’s the best way to find the coolest things. As a child, nearly all the money I ever came into contact with was spent on trinkets at yard sales and flea markets. I treasured my purchases, proud of everything I salvaged, as if each one was my ticket to becoming a millionaire. 

Today, I went yard sailing again. I bought two chairs, a sweater, some funky cat magnets, a bee shaped brooch, a vintage gravy boat, a casserole dish and a tiny bear figurine. What do I need these things for? Well, that part doesn’t matter. The point is, I spent less than fifty dollars on all of it. And I will never be rich, but who cares? You don’t need to be rich if you can buy a vintage gravy boat for two bucks. 

Stiff Shoulders

Stiff Shoulders

Stiff shoulders and straight back,

you’re unwilling to accept comfort.

You think I don’t know that you’ve

done things that you’re not proud of.


I must seem to small to someone

with the universe on their shoulders.

Stiff shoulders and straight back,

lips pressed in a permanent line.


Stiff shoulders and straight back

will melt away from you tomorrow.

You’ll smile and laugh like always.

We’ll be companions again.


The universe is beautiful then,

when you’re acting as a tourguide.

Then it shrinks and gets inside you.

Stiff shoulders and straight back.


Stiff shoulders and straight back,

but I wrap my arms around you again.

I’ll ask what’s wrong, you won’t answer.

I’m not surprised by it anymore.


Your mouth is sealed with secrets.

Your mind is full of too many things.

Stiff shoulders and straight back.

That’s how you keep yourself going.


Stiff shoulders and straight back.

So tense, I can feel you’re hurting.

But I’m on the other side of the door

and your universe is unreachable.


Still, maybe something reaches you.

Tomorrow is going to be beautiful again.

Stiff shoulders and straight back

melt back into smiles and laughter.

A Book Can Be a Friend

A Book Can Be a Friend: A Girl Who Loved Tolkien and Her Favorite Book

By: Rachel Parsons

December, 2012

When I was eleven, in the year 2001, I saw advertisements for the first of Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. I remember standing in line at the movie theater, though I don’t remember which movie I was there to see, and I saw the big cardboard standups advertising The Fellowship of the Ring. I recognized the name from the fantasy cartoons I’d grown up on. There were three animated films my brothers and I had watched over and over again, those being The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Return of the King.

I was ecstatic at the time because the animated films were some of my favorite movies. The hobbits, in particular, were characters very dear to me. I mentioned it to my mother. She, being a librarian, was quick to inform me that there were books that the films were based on and my mother has always believed in reading the book before seeing the movie. Posthaste, I checked out The Fellowship of the Ring from our local library, where my mother worked, and so began my fascination and adoration of anything written by Tolkien.

All of the books were dear to me and I finished them before The Two Towers came out in theaters, meaning I was then able to anticipate the final movie along with every other Tolkien fan at the tender age of thirteen. I was so enthralled in those books that I took them everywhere I went, just so I’d be able to read them. I huddled under a blanket and umbrella with the library’s paperback copy of The Two Towers at my little brothers’ baseball game while it was lightly raining on me, determined to read my book for as long as possible. There was nothing more important in my life at the time. Even Harry Potter didn’t measure up.

My mother was happy to indulge my Tolkien addiction. She bought me a copy of The Hobbit, which I read out of order but adored all the same. I even tried to read The Book of Lost Tales, Part 1, but at thirteen the material was far too dense for me to comprehend. At fifteen, my father took me to a bookstore to pick out my own books for Christmas and I bought myself a copy of The Silmarillion, which I have not read to this day. Out of every Tokien book I read or tried to read, however, I had a favorite. It wasn’t just one title, mind you. It was a very specific copy of one book in particular.

While I had checked out worn paperback copes of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers when I rented them from the library, I was and am the sort of person who prefers a hardback book. My library had a hardback copy of The Return of the King that I adored. It was an older copy, well-worn before I ever came along to find it in the back corner of the fiction shelves. It was red and the front of the dust jacket had been cut out and glued to the front many years ago. This book, unassuming as it might have appeared, was more than just a book to me. It was a dear friend.

I suppose I should mention that during this period of my life, my parents got a divorce. It was not an easy thing for me to understand at the time and instead of trying to comprehend what was happening to my family, I spent all of my time reading about Middle-Earth. I checked out The Return of the King many times. I took it with me when I went places with my dad, and for fun I talked my little brothers into acting out scenes from the book, which we were all terrible at, being quite small at the time.

Sometimes, when I went to work with my mother and needed a place to hide, I would go to the corner of the library where they kept the Tolkien books. It was hidden behind another shelf and I often curled up there with my book and read my favorite scenes over and over again. Once or twice, I used the book as a pillow and fell asleep in that corner. But I don’t think anyone knew how much that book really meant to me.

I asked once if, should the book ever be discarded, they would give it to me. I was going on sixteen at the time and my book was falling apart. The head librarian took it and carefully repaired the damage, as per my instruction, but promised that it wasn’t going to be discarded any time soon. All the same, I told her, I wanted this book when it did get discarded. I knew it would happen sooner or later. That copy had probably been there since the seventies and it had seen better days. One day, I knew the library would have to update it.

On my sixteenth birthday, the employees at the library gave me a present. It was a brand new and quite beautiful copy of The Return of the King, which they knew was my favorite book. I was not sure what to say. It was a nice present and I didn’t have the book, so of course I appreciated it. But it wasn’t my book. It wasn’t the book I’d fallen asleep with and taken on travels with me. It didn’t look or feel or smell the same. Still, I didn’t tell them that they’d given me the wrong book. I thanked them profusely and told them that I loved it.

My book remained on the shelf and I checked in on it now and then, just to see if it was still around. It was always there when I went back to the corner for it, and it was the only book I ever considered stealing from the library. I didn’t do that, of course. I held out some hope that when it came time for my book’s retirement, the librarians would remember me and they would hold it back. Years passed and still, my book remained on the shelf.

My mother quit her job and set about getting her Master’s degree in Library Science. We had long since moved to another part of the county and after my mother quit, we rarely visited that library. The library was later moved into a much nicer building. I would think about my book occasionally but was now convinced that it could never be mine. The head librarian retired and a new librarian took her place. I was preoccupied with college and had little time to worry about one book that was never meant to be mine.

The thing is, I went back yesterday. I had to see if my book was still there. I had been thinking about it a lot, what with The Hobbit being made into a new movie, and I wondered if my book was still in circulation. If not, I wondered if anyone knew where it was. Holding my breath, I went to the new corner that houses the Tolkien books and I searched. My book was not present amongst the others. Biting my lip, I returned to the main desk to ask if perhaps it had been checked out. Someone checked for me, but reported back that there were no hardback copies of The Return of the King, only paperbacks.

I’m not upset with anyone over it. No one knew it was my book. I never knew how to explain it to anyone, and besides, they are not the same employees who were there when I fell asleep with it in the corner. No one could tell me what had happened to it, but I’m sure it was taken to the book sale and some lucky person picked it up for a dollar or less. I wish it had been me that found it and took it home. I cried about it when I got back out to the car. There are so many memories I have attached to that book. It saw me through so many things but in the end, it never belonged to me.

Whoever has it now, I hope they appreciate it. When I got home, I looked online for a copy like it and found one for sale that had a dust jacket like mine did; only this dust jacket was still intact and not glued to the book. I bought it and sent a message to the seller, telling them how happy I was to have found this copy, how it was like mine, and that I’d cried earlier in the day when I discovered my copy was gone. The seller was very sweet, told me how much they loved Tolkien too and how they were glad my book had found me.

I think I will be happy when it arrives in the mail. When I take it out and hold it in my hands, I think it will feel something like my book felt. Maybe it will smell the same too, musty and antique like old books often smell, though it can never completely look the part unless I break the spine and mutilate the dust jacket. In truth, like the seller, I am glad that this copy found me. I want to have this one so I can move on and put my book to rest. It lived a very long shelf life and probably brought happiness to a lot of people. I can honestly say that I don’t think anyone loved it more than I did. Sometimes a book is a good friend when you need one the most.

Book Review: “Shine” by Lauren Myracle

Settle For Nothing Less Than the Truth: A Review of Lauren Myracle’s “Shine”

By: Rachel Parsons

            As a young Appalachian woman, I find myself constantly in pursuit of good literature about my region. As I am also a
fan of Young Adult literature, it is a special treat when I come across a Young Adult novel set in Appalachia that’s about more than raising chickens and catching crawdads. One such novel is “Shine,” by Lauren Myracle.

Settle For Nothing Less Than the Truth: A Review of Lauren Myracle’s “Shine”

(Click the above link for full text.)

Peace is Impossible

The leader sees people
but not individuals.
The lesser of evils
becomes ancient ritual.

The captain leads soldiers
with army field manuals.
His missions from folders,
the violence is mutual.

The person sees mirrors
and fails to be clinical.
There’s losers and winners,
both always criminal.

If the greed inside man
is always unstoppable,
there’s no Utopian land
and peace is impossible.

Peace is Impossible

One Step Up

Photo courtesy of Wendy Johnston

One Step Up: Keeping Larry’s Legacy

By: Rachel Parsons

In loving memory of Larry Gibson, 1946 – 2012

I’ve been involved in the movement to stop mountaintop removal for over three years now, which is a relatively small period of time when I think about the many people who’ve been involved for much longer. Fighting big coal has come to define me to such an extent that it feels like a lifetime since I first heard Judy Bonds and Larry Gibson speak. Judy and Larry were two coalfield residents whose words were more than just genuine; they were passionate and empowering.

Larry Gibson was a spunky little man who talked big, and it was not difficult to believe every word he said. I always believed that he would fight for the mountains until he took his last breath. People like Larry don’t just stop fighting for something when the fight gets too hard. Larry’s fight was always hard. Throwing his lot in with the “tree huggers” and refusing to sell the last remnants of his home on Kayford Mountain to the coal company meant that Larry made a lot of enemies.

People shot at his house, vandalized his property, poisoned and shot his dogs and threatened his life. The police ignored Larry’s problems, claiming that Larry lived in “No Man’s Land” on Kayford Mountain and that there was nothing they could do to help him. Despite this, Larry was not deterred. He never claimed to be a saint or anything of the sort, just a man who owed his life to Kayford Mountain, but there must have been some part of him with divine patience. How many people can claim that all those things, or even of those things, wouldn’t scare them away from their home?

If anyone wonders how bad the harassment of Larry Gibson really was, well, let me tell you a little story. It’s about a nineteen year old girl who went with her family to spend the Fourth of July with Larry and a large group of mountaintop removal protestors on Kayford Mountain for Larry’s annual Fourth of July festival. That nineteen year old girl was me and I was brand new to the movement. I’d met Larry a couple of times before but didn’t know him well. He welcomed my family – my mother, my brothers, my grandparents, and me – with open arms, like he’d known us forever.

Not much for crowds, I retired to my tent early on to write. Larry had warned us all earlier that day that there could be some disturbance from locals who didn’t like what Larry stood for. While I was squirreled away in my tent, some of those locals showed up. I could hear raised voices from inside the tent and, afraid of getting involved in something potentially dangerous, I stayed where I was while our group was verbally assaulted by several locals. One of them was a large man who decided to express his disdain for us by eating several of the hotdogs we’d grilled while a female friend of his poured tomato juice all over our picnic area. They shouted vicious things at our group and at Larry, prompting my grandfather to place himself protectively in front of Larry. My grandfather told me later that he put himself in the line of fire hoping that one of them would hit him, so he’d have a real complaint to take to the police, since they wouldn’t listen to anything else.

When I emerged from my tent, the troublemakers had gone and we all tried to go about our celebration and pretend that nothing had happened. As Larry explained, it wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened, which was of little comfort to us when it began to rain. My mother, my brothers and I were huddled together in a tent that leaked, none of us getting much sleep while locals roared their cars and four-wheelers past our camp all night long and shouted expletives and threats at us. After that night, I never doubted any claim Larry made of violence against him and his property and family.

Larry lived on what little remained of Kayford Mountain, which was his family’s ancestral home. He placed his fifty acres in a land trust that prevents it from ever being strip-mined, though underground mining still takes place. That fifty acres is all that’s left of over 500 acres owned by Larry’s family, most of which has been taken and destroyed by a mining company by way of a broad form deed that sold the mineral rights to the property, signed with an “X” by one of Larry’s ancestors. Larry would take all of his visitors to a place called “Hell’s Gate,” a point where you could look out at the destruction of Kayford Mountain.

The first time Larry took my family to Hell’s Gate, I was shell-shocked. There are no words to describe the site. People tried to describe the horror of it to me before I went, but nothing that anyone said could have prepared me for the sight of a mountain that had been nearly leveled. They don’t call it mountaintop removal for nothing. Kayford’s mountaintop is gone. Even worse was when Larry pointed out a patch of green that resembled an island, raised above the rubble and waste. He explained that it was his family’s cemetery, which the company was not allowed to destroy, but was now incredibly difficult to reach. Larry’s ancestors are buried in that “protected” cemetery.

It made me sick to my stomach and I knew I had to find a way to join the fight. Every time I saw Larry, he smiled and hugged me and encouraged me to stay involved. He was very concerned about getting young people to join the movement, because he said that we were the ones who would have to carry on the fight after he was gone. It never really occurred to me that one day we wouldn’t have Larry to lead the charge. He was such a powerful personality that it made me believe Larry would always have my back in this fight.

Now I’m twenty-two and still fighting. A little over a year ago, one of my heroes, Judy Bonds, passed away from cancer. Her death had a huge impact on the movement. I had only just escaped the melancholy that settled on me on the anniversary of her passing. With one powerful person gone, I know the vast majority of people in the movement looked to Larry for inspiration and guidance. I don’t use the word “hero” lightly. Larry fit the word in every sense. If a person grew weary of the fight, they only needed to go to Larry to get that metaphorical fire lit under their ass. Larry didn’t just ask you to fight, he told you flat out that it was your responsibility to fight and to fight hard.

I was not expecting to come home Sunday evening to news of Larry’s passing. In fact, I had no reason to expect that he would leave us any time soon. At sixty-six years old, he was lively and loud, though I was not under the illusion that he was in prime health. My mother and I pulled into the driveway of our home after a trip to the grocery store and we were met by my stepfather, who broke the news to us. My mother broke down in tears. For me, the news was so out of the blue that I wasn’t sure how to react.

The first thing I did was rush to my computer to uncover the facts about the situation. I found out that Larry had indeed passed away. He’d had a heart attack while working on his beloved mountain. I suppose he would have wanted to die up there but I’m sure he wasn’t planning on it happening so soon. He still had work to do, the responsibility for which has now been thrust upon his family and friends.

Activist and photographer Paul Corbit Brown took a video of Larry a few days before his death, in which Larry spoke of his love for Kayford Mountain. Kayford was not quite heaven, he said, but up there, he was one step up – one step closer to heaven. That’s testament to how much he loved that place, considering that most of it was already gone. Larry must have remembered Kayford the way she used to be, wild and rich with life. I can’t say what happens after this life, if we continue to another life or return to the earth, but one way or another, I hope that Larry was reunited with Kayford.

There’s so much to say about him. Physically, he was a small person and had an unassuming appearance. If it wasn’t for the neon green shirt and hat that he wore everywhere, he would have been an easy person to overlook. It was the fighting passion inside him that made him such a memorable person. He wanted to fight for Kayford, for every mountain in Appalachia, and he poured his heart and soul into it. He made sure that no one ignored him, going out on the road to speak all around the country and spread the word of the threat of strip-mining in Appalachia.

People said he looked like a highlighter out in public, clearly visible in his trademark green, which he said he chose because it caught peoples’ attention. The shirt and hat, now owned by many of us in the movement, bear the information for Larry’s foundation, The Keepers of the Mountains. “Love ’em or leave ’em, just don’t destroy ’em,” he said. He wanted to win the fight against big coal and see a stop put to mountaintop removal more than anything. It makes me hurt and angry to know that he won’t get to see the final chapter of the story. He won’t be there when mountaintop removal is finally abolished.

It will feel so strange to celebrate that victory without him or Judy Bonds to get up in front of us all and tell us that we did it; we won against all odds. That’s all the more reason to keep fighting. If I count Larry as a dear friend, which I do, I know that I can’t throw in the towel now. It’s time to step up and carry the torch onwards, to make sure that our voice is not lessened just because Larry’s not here to clear the way in highlighter green.

All that being said, I miss Larry and it hurts so much to know that I’ll never see him again. He’ll never give me another hug, or tell my mother what a pretty daughter she has. Larry was special to me and my family. We counted ourselves as his people, people from Appalachia who were tired of being quiet, and it is like losing a family member now that he is gone. I thought I would get to see him soon in DC and I was looking forward to it. I feel hollow knowing that he won’t be here to lead us anymore.

Larry’s passing only strengthens my resolve. I want the world to hear his story and know the true cost of coal. I want everyone to hear about the suffering of the Appalachian people and our beloved mountains. Larry’s home was destroyed. The forests he explored as a child were demolished, his mountain was leveled, and yet our government thinks that this is okay. Worse than that, this has happened to over five hundred mountains in Appalachia, and more all of the time.

In Larry Gibson’s honor, I refuse to back down and allow the greedy rich to have their way. As Larry would say, it’s my job and it’s your job to see this through. It doesn’t matter if you live here or you don’t, if you’re a transplant or a native, or if you live on the other side of the world. Everyone should care about this, and everyone should want to preserve and protect the Appalachian Mountains.

I know what Larry meant when he said that being on Kayford was “one step up.” There is something divine about these mountains, about the land I have loved since I was a small child, and I have felt that strong connection to it that Larry had. Imagine the most important thing to you in this world, the one thing that you keep in your soul, so deeply ingrained in your being that it defines you. Then you will understand what it is like for me and for Larry, to love this place. Maybe then you’ll want to join us and carry on Larry’s legacy, to move us ever closer to a world where these mountains are protected for future generations.

This is an invitation. If you’re not already involved, stop wondering whether or not this is your fight and jump into the fray. It is not an easy fight. People will try to hold you back every step of the way. They’ll call you a liar and many less pleasant names, they’ll try to label you as an outsider who has no right to speak up, but no matter where you live, you are not an outsider. Larry would have wanted you with us. Join us and help us keep the mountains.

Almost Heaven, Video of Larry Gibson by Paul Corbit Brown