Larry McKnight Jr. Industrial Mechanic and Artist, Clintwood, Virginia:
“My mom’s family is originally from Mississippi and my dad’s family; my grandma grew up in Clinchco, Virginia, which isn’t to far from where I live now. My grandfather is from Barboursville, Kentucky. They both moved north to get jobs in the auto industry. When my dad got older he decided he wanted to move back down here and they had me. My grandparents moved back down too and we’ve been here ever since.
I’ve lived here all my life. I have been all over the place, as far west as Phoenix, Arizona, as far north as Maine and as far south as the Keys. So I’ve been around a place or two. I worked in Florida for a while, worked in Baltimore for a little. I worked as a boilermaker then, worked on trash burning power plants. I’m a mechanic… an industrial mechanic is what they would call it.
I used to tell people when I did travel work that working and traveling, that’s what I did. When I came back home it was like being on a vacation. And that’s how life is here. It is as hard as you want it to be. I feel that if you have a decent amount of drive and aptitude to do things you can do anything here in these mountains regardless of the economy. There are ways to make a living. It’s all about living within your means by doing that. You can’t expect to have a champagne lifestyle on a beer budget.
The original MacGyver probably learned from one of these old boys back in one of these mountains. Book sense will only get you so far. I think common sense will get you a lot farther. Because of the adversity we have in this area you have to learn to do a lot of different things. You have to be a jack-of-all-trades. Lets say you do one thing on your job all day, once that job is gone what are you gonna do? I wake up every morning and try to learn something new. That way I know I’ll always have something I can make a living at.
I have noticed in this area that there are a lot of people who aren’t afraid to do things themselves. I was taught at a young age, in our family, we did everything; carpentry work, electric work, mechanical, farming. It didn’t matter what it was someone close to me already knew how to do it so I had really good teachers growing up. There is one thing my dad wouldn’t touch much,. That would be masonry. We usually outsourced masonry. There is a reason. That stuff has to be spot on. There is no room for error with masonry.
Being raised in these here mountains and having parents that support me; that always did what they wanted to do, growing up in that lifestyle, my mind is the only thing that can keep me from doing the things that I want to do.
Where we live we are blessed. If you have a talent and you can hone that skill there is somebody that will buy your work. You just have to do it. You just have to stick to it. If you put love and care into it someone will see that love and care and have a connection to it.
(Appalachians are) probably the most honest and humble people you will ever meet. They are not afraid to work, they are not afraid to help their fellow man. I do worry sometimes though that we are being to get a little separated. There’s not as much community as there once was. Here, in Whitesburg, (Kentucky) I do see a growth in community. I see a big change. There seems to be a lot of people actually touching one another in ways of making art or business. It’s not about money. It’s about people being happy.
We are a minority. We are not a mainstream people. The media doesn’t know us. The media has a tendency to betray us, as backwards which is not the case. Just because we get from point A to Point B differently than someone else does, doesn’t make us wrong. It just means we like to look at things differently. I think the perception, the reason the perception is the way that it is, is because we don’t have a good voice from here telling people how we really are. Ignorance causes the most hate and I think they (the media) are ignorant of who we are, what we are; the differences we have and the similarities that we have. We are all the same at the core but we are all raised a little different. There is nature and there is nurture. Our people grew up hard from the day they were born here. You have to actually work hard if you want something.
(Regarding coal) I don’t necessarily like how a lot of coal is being taken from our land but I do like toilet paper and electricity. It real hard to talk people out of using their air conditioners when it’s 90 degrees outside. What needs to happen is, they actually need to realize that there is other ways to get things and there are ways that people in the area can benefit from it as well. Take natural gas for example. Our natural gas is piped hundreds of miles away from here. Why not make an infrastructure here based on natural gas right where it comes from. Make it easier on the people that live here first. And then help everybody else. Charity begins at home.
We need to quit worrying about the dollar; it’s just a piece of paper. Worry more about the people. “