From The West Virginia Hills

by Lenore McComas Coberly;  reviewed by Cindy Rank

A journey through a life well lived

The song of Lenore McComas Coberly’s life is sung in brief stories that span some 95 years.

Ever-delightful, always thought-provoking and sprinkled with kind humor, Lenore McComas Coberly comes to us once again with her gift for story telling in her recent book From The West Virginia Hills.

This time she takes us on a journey of what she recalls as an amazing life, an autobiography of sorts, but not written in a narrative style that one might customarily expect.

From Madison Wisconsin February 1, 2020 Ms. Coberly introduces us to her newest book this way:

“The memory of one’s life is not a narrative, rather, it comes back piecemeal. I am a teller of stories and these are some that I remember. …. my remembrances are by chance not by design.  Already I itch to write more. I am, after all, only 95 years old.”

What follows is like a journey through old family photo albums that spark memories warm and sometimes sad but amazing at every turn and full of wonder at where we’ve come from, and where all we’ve been, and what we have become.

Lenore takes us on an adventure that starts with her roots in Big Ugly, West Virginia and with her family and friends growing up in the rugged hills and gurgling streams in Lincoln County WV. She speaks with deep warmth and respect offering her words as “a tribute to the character and strength to be found in the people of Lincoln County.”

Many stayed in those hills but as she relates in a reference to her neighbor Chuck Yeager, “Charles Yeager, the first man to fly faster than sound, grew up on the same hillside that I did and his autobiography reveals his reluctance to leave, but also the reality of our World War II generation – we would be the first to leave.”

For Lenore the future led to West Virginia University in Morgantown WV and far beyond through a life that even now amazes and delights.

In From The West Virginia Hills Lenore weaves memories of her early days and family in Big Ugly and Hamlin throughout her own evolving story of marriage, children, moving with her beloved husband Cam to Pittsburgh Pa, St Louis, and finally Madison, Wisconsin.

After their four children were grown, traveling with Cam provided opportunities to visit and talk with literary greats in Indonesia and China and even a brief meeting with Deng Xiaoping. Lenore continues to expand her career in creative writing and encouraging other writers via poetry and writing groups.

Though not a major focus in any of Lenore’s stories, her observations and experiences overseas as well as happenings here in the United States – her own early childhood, racial unrest in St Louis, the Vietnam War, politics just prior to publication of this book in 2020 – have led her to accept of the ambiguities of life, a quality that underlies much of her writing.

She cites advice from psychiatrist Seymore Halleck “The extent to which we accept ambiguity is the extent to which we are sane.”

We end with Lenore’s own words from near the beginning of the book:

“Big Ugly was a delight to the child who was me.  Today mountain top removal threatens the creek and the lives of the people living there, an amazement that breaks my heart even as I observe the desperate need for jobs for people living there.

Now, sitting on my screened porch with birds and chipmunks sharing my green yard, I am still amazed by beauty and sorrow, by understanding and war, by love and indifference, by hearing aids and vitamin supplements, by today and yesterday, and by all that is and that will be.”

Lenore has been a graceful and grace-filled presence in our lives. May she continue to share hers with us.

[Personal note: I had the pleasure of meeting and spending a bit of time with Lenore in 2006 and wrote articles about two of her other books that appeared in the Highlands VoiceA Big Ugly Book, May 2007, and For I Am Mountainborn, December 2015]