Larry Bryan Gibble
January 2, 1946 — May 13, 1967
May 13, 2005
He was the first new person I met my first day on campus at Harrisburg Area Community College in September of 1965. I already knew who he was. He was a member of a local folk-singing quintet, the Metropolitans. I’d seen them perform a few times and regarded him as something of a celebrity. On that basis alone I’d have been reluctant to talk to him first.
I met him in the book buying line. The school, in only its second year of operation, had no real book store, just a basement storage room in a classroom building that opened to the outside from a subterranean door. One clerk served one person at a time, so the line went up the steps and along the sidewalk. He was the one I fell in line behind.
“My name’s Larry,” he said. “Are you a freshman?”
The conversation went from there. We exchanged the basics – where we’d gone to high school, what we were interested in. I told him I’d seen him perform, and that a member of the group was a girl I knew from the city youth orchestra. He’d had some of the classes I was going to have. He gave advice and encouragement. He waited for me while I bought my books. I remember that the whole load, enough for five classes, cost $58. I paid for them with a check my mother had signed. He helped me carry them to my car and laughed when I opened what looked like the engine hood on the front of my 1965 Corvair and dumped the books into what was actually the trunk space. I think we went to the student lounge area together after that.
Larry was never a boyfriend. We didn’t move in the same circles nor have the same friends. We never had a conversation away from that student lounge (a dark, echoing room that had once been a gymnasium – the floor suspended above the swimming pool area sagged in the middle and vibrated during Saturday night dances). But we did have conversations from time to time. He had a kind of a bounce to his walk, and I’d see him come into the lounge and scan the crowd. If I caught his eye, he’d wave, and sometimes he’d stop at the table where I was sitting and say hello. He’d ask how I was doing. Sometimes he sat for a while and we’d talk until one of us had to go to class. Once he helped me get my car out of a pile of snow and slush. I’d backed too far into the space, and the wheels had gone over the paved part into the soft earth of an embankment. It was the German teacher’s parking space that I’d taken for a minute just to run into the library and get a book, and I had to be out before she arrived.
HACC is a two-year school, and Larry left at the end of 1966. I never saw him again. The Metropolitans stopped performing, and I don’t know if he went to school or got a job. I don’t know what his ambitions were or if he had a girlfriend. All I know is that on the afternoon of May 13, 1967, a Saturday, he was riding his motorcycle west on Airport Road in Hershey when he was hit head on by an eastbound station wagon that had just been hit by a car traveling north through the intersection at Route 743. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Over these almost forty years I have thought of him more than one might imagine, given how casual our relationship seemed to be. I did not attend the funeral. The school term had ended and I was working as a temporary clerk in a state government office downtown, and I just couldn’t arrange the time off. Another member of the Metropolitans died later that summer in a diving accident. For a short story I wrote in a creative writing class at Millersville University the next semester I put both incidents together and imagined I attended the funeral. My instructor disparaged the piece as sentimental slush (it probably was), and I think that’s when I stopped writing fiction, not to take it up again for more than two decades.
About ten years ago I was doing some research in a local historical society and came upon his high school yearbook. I opened it, and there he was, smiling as I remember him. I made a photocopy. I’m looking at it now, on the anniversary of his death, and I’m remembering, with great affection, a gentle young man whose brief care of me has never been forgotten.