Dustin White reaches down and clears a few fallen leaves off a grave. He takes a moment, looks around, then tells me about his great-grandmother Gladys Cook, who is buried here. Mama Gladys, as he calls her, was more like a grandmother, really, a family matriarch. She used to take White out fishing—called him her “little fisherman.” Mama Gladys’s husband is buried next to her, and a brother is laid to rest on the other side. A shared headstone marks their graves. At their feet are three small deer statues. Their plots are adorned with bouquets of fading plastic flowers.
We’re standing in one of hundreds of family cemeteries that dot the mountains and hollows of West Virginia. Known as the Webb cemetery, it contains 37 marked graves, some designated by worn fieldstone with faded inscriptions, others by simple laminated-paper placards. The names belong to the Webbs, and the Cooks, and near the back there’s a Green. The earliest graves are from the 1800s, the most recent from the 1990s. Many belong to children.
If you spend enough time with White, a broad-shouldered man with closely cropped hair, you will learn about the dozen or so generations of his family who lived—and died—near here. Cook is his mother’s maiden name; the original Cook, Floyd, had a hundred grandchildren.
“These are all distant relatives,” White says of the graves at his feet. “My family helped found Twilight and Lindytown and James Creek”—all towns in nearby hollows. He points up higher along the ridge, to the Montcoal mountaintop-removal mining site. “And that’s what they’re in the shadow of.”