What does the world think when they hear something said about mountain people? Outhouses? Missing teeth? Straw hats? Bare feet? Overalls? Third grade education?
Regretfully, the truth is that is the same image I would picture in my mind the first 41 years of my life. That way of thinking has slowly begun to change over the past seven years, as I married one of those beautiful mountain girls from eastern Kentucky.
My first trip to a “holler” was one of the scariest times of my life! I’ve never even been hunting before.
My sweet stench of “city” seemed to tickle everyone’s nose hairs the wrong way each time I would visit. As it turns out I was just a scared, ignorant little city boy with a closed off mind. I’ve come to enjoy each and every visit I get to make to eastern Kentucky. I think it is one of the more relaxing times I get to experience. I’ve learned that mountain folk are not the weird ones of this world as so many think. I truly believe us “city folk” could very well be the weird ones.
The truth is, mountain folk demonstrate a love for family, friends, and most of all for God, that we could all learn a thing or two from if we would just remove the blinders (and the planks) from our own eyes. I’ve felt in my spirit over the past few years that there is indeed something different about these people but have never been able to put my finger on it. Or, at least until the past several days.
I attended a funeral of a man named Larry Dean Holbrook. I’ve been to a lot of funerals in my 48 years and wasn’t expecting anything different from this one. (Boy, was I ever wrong). As we arrived at the viewing on Tuesday evening, there were two rooms of chairs instead of just the one where Larry Dean’s casket was.
As the clock ticked on from 5 until 6, both rooms were filled to standing room only. Now I saw why the dividers were opened. This was my first thought of, “Who was this Larry Dean Holbrook whom I’ve never met?” By the way, he was my wife’s uncle.
Some people there were crying, some were telling stories, some were laughing, and some were just sitting and staring at the pictures and at the video playing on the wall. Then, all of the sudden, the sound of singing broke out!
Family members and friends all took turns singing by themselves and together while standing in front of the casket in honor of Larry Dean. Wow, I thought this was pretty cool. I wanted to get up and do a little song and dance myself but my wife wouldn’t let me. (Just kidding, I don’t sing . . . in public anyway). I’m thinking at this time, “Okay, Lord, I’m open! I feel your presence here! Show me what you want me to see, tune my ears to what you want me to hear, and most of all soften my heart to feel what you want me to feel!”
I could sense that the man lying in the casket loved God more than anything, and that he had touched many, many lives. I felt so loved and accepted by each person my wife introduced me to, as if I had been born and raised right there in their small community.
Something definitely was stirring up inside me, which peaked my interest and made me really excited about what was to come the next day at the funeral.
As we walked into the funeral home the next day, I have to admit I was excited to experience more of this unconventional funeral (in my eyes anyway, for now.) People were already gathered there fellowshipping just as if they had never left. Both sides were packed again, standing room only.
I couldn’t help but be drawn to Larry Dean’s two sons, Larry Jr. and Hiram, standing in front of their father’s casket. I could sense they had an incredible bond as they stood hand in hand greeting each person with hugs and tears.
In my experience, a family bond is not something that can be faked! What I was witnessing there was 100 percent genuine, which I later found out was instilled in them from the man in the casket. There were many more songs sung, a few recordings of Larry Dean singing, and four or five different pastors testifying how much they loved Larry Dean, and how he had touched their lives.
Then, “the main course.” Larry Jr. got up, told a few stories, and preached the Word like no other! The anointing was so powerful, and the presence of The Holy Spirit was so strong I could hardly move! It was a beautiful thing to experience.
He said a few things that will forever impact my life. He said, and I quote, “As you all know, us mountain folk are different. We pray different, we sing different, we worship different, we dance different, we preach different, but I wouldn’t change for anything in this world”.
I think I could add a few more things to that list of being different; mountain folk bury their dead different, and most importantly, they love God different! They show a kind of “no holds barred” approach to loving God. They aren’t afraid to show it, to express it, and they’re definitely not afraid or ashamed to tell you about this amazing man named Jesus!
They want everyone around to see and to know just how awesome God is. The men lead by example and are not afraid to show emotion. They cry on each other’s shoulders and have each other’s backs no matter what.
If only all men could be that confident! They teach their children at a young age to love God first, and everything else will fall into place. To quote Larry Dean speaking to his two sons many years ago, “This family has a special anointing and favor from God! No matter where life takes you, or what you get yourself into, God will always be pursuing you, and will never leave you”.
The most important thing God has revealed to me over the last several days is just how important leaving a legacy really is. I’m not talking about a “status” legacy, or a “money” legacy, those are wonderful things to leave.
I’m talking about the type of legacy Larry Dean Holbrook left. Where there are not enough chairs to sit out to hold everyone. Where people could get up and testify for days and days about how they will never be the same because they had him in their life.
I will strive the remainder of my days to leave this type of legacy! The funny thing is that this type of legacy doesn’t even cost a dime. It’s the basis of God’s word, love. It’s the greatest commandment. If we love people the way God loves us, we too can become more Christ like, more Larry Dean like.
Larry Dean Holbrook has already shown us what the end result looks like when you love people more than you love yourself! We just have to choose to love more.
I never got the privilege or the honor to meet Mr. Holbrook, but my life will be forever changed and inspired by the legacy he left. My view on mountain folk has also forever changed.
I believe the world would be a much better place if everyone could have the opportunity to experience “an unconventional funeral hosted by mountain folk.”