Friday, January 6, 2012

Dear Grandma

Lelia Amick, wife and mother, on the
 farm in Nicholas County, West Virginia.
My grandmother, Lelia Clingman Humphries Amick, always said she had two birthdays.  The official birth record lists her date of birth as January 1, 1888, but she was really born on January 8, 1888.  Sunday will be the 124th anniversary of her birth in Pool, Nicholas County, West Virginia.  I asked her once what her middle name was, and she laughed when I thought "Clingman" sure was a funny name.  It turns out that her grandmother was Elizabeth Clingman Ott from Greenbrier County.

Irvin Amick and Lelia Clingman
Humphries around the time
of their marriage.
On December 27, 1905, Lelia, at the age of 17, married Irvin Amick.  They lived in Nicholas County, at first in the home of Lelia's parents, Will and Lucinda Humphries.  By 1920 they lived in their own home, next door to Irvin's parents, Samuel and Martha Amick.  My mother said that Grandma loved her cows, and that she had a favorite cow named Reddy. 

 In 1930 Irvin and Lelia lived in Greenbrier County where Irvin worked as a carpenter for the railroad in Rainelle.  At first they lived in Dwyer, but then moved to Rainelle, where they lived in an apartment in the old hospital building, then in the Scruggs house, and then in an apartment over Blair Jewelry Store.  Their son, Teddy Carl Amick, also worked as a carpenter for the railroad.  In July 1930, when Teddy was 21 years old, he was killed in a work accident.  Irvin and Lelia remained in Rainelle with their surviving children, Leathel Delores, Carrie May, Irma Belle, and Marylene Gathel.

After Teddy was killed, Irvin and Lelia bought a farm in 1932 in Waverly, Virginia, where they had a small store.   They were afraid that Irvin would lose his job with the railroad, but as it turned out, he continued to work there during the depression. 

Lelia (in flowered dress) sight-seeing
 in San Diego with her sister,
Sadie L. Humphries Dorsey.
Eventually the family returned to Rainelle where they bought a house.  Lelia worked as a cook at the King Coal Hotel and at the hospital.  From their home it was a short walk up town to the A & P grocery store, G. C. Murphy's Five & Ten, Flint's Hardware, and the Gulf service station where Granddad treated me to orange pop.  When Irvin retired from the railroad, they had lifetime passes to ride the train anywhere they wanted to go, so each year, my mom and dad drove them to Hinton. where they caught a train to Arizona.  There they spent time with Carrie before travelling on to San Diego, where Leathel lived.  Each spring they returned to their home in Rainelle. 

I remember Grandma's house.  Granddad had a perpetual game of solitaire going on the table, and Grandma had a perpetual dinner going in the kitchen:  pot roast, green beans, and fried apples, seasoned with her proverbs.  "It's a poor house that can't afford one lady."  "Might as well eat the devil as drink his broth."  I loved playing Chinese checkers and reading her Better Homes and Gardens magazines.  Grandma's house is where I learned to play Canasta. 

In 1968 I went to Berea, Kentucky, to go to college.  It was a different time, I can assure you.  As a terrified 18-year-old, living away from home for the very first time, I did something that most 18-year-olds today would never think of.  I wrote letters.  And I received letters.  Letters from my mom and dad, from friends at home, from friends who had joined the Navy, and from my grandmother, Lelia Clingman Humphries Amick. I saved her letters for some reason.  I didn't save letters from anyone
At a family reunion at Lizzie Bennett's house in
Nicholas County:  Lelia's nephew, Clyde
Arthur and his wife, Sadie Humphries Dorsey
(Lelia's sister), and Lelia Amick. 

else, but I've kept Grandma's letters in an old stationery box for 43 years.  The letters offer encouragement to me and ask dozens of questions about what it was like to be in college.  There was no generation gap. 

She wrote 11 letters to me from October 4, 1968, to April 22, 1969, from High Point, North Carolina, where she lived with her daughter and my aunt, Marylene Rountree.  Her health had deteriorated until she had to "give up housekeeping", which meant selling her home and disbursing all of her furniture and household items.  At that time my mother was in crisis herself dealing with the illness of my father, so Grandma went to live with her daughter in North Carolina. 
Oh, how she missed Rainelle.  Although she missed going to church, her first letter is full of news and questions.  It was also full of encouragement for me, telling me, "I know what it takes to get it.  You have got it."  Twelve days later she writes, "I was afraid you would forget you had a grandma.  I am so proud of you," and that they are changing East Rainelle so much, I wouldn't "know it" when I got back up there.  Her plans were to return to Rainelle, but on October 26 she wrote that she had asked her doctor about going to West Virginia, and he looked at her like "he thought I was crazy.  That is all he said.  That look was enough."  
She wrote to me on election day in November.  An intense democrat, she said that "this is the big day for one of the big men.  I hope it is the one who butters our bread."  She was "sorry that I can't help him out" at the ballot box.  That big man was Hubert Humphrey, who lost to Richard Nixon.  She didn't write about the election anymore. 
Later in November she told me the news she had heard from my mom.  "There is no place like home to me.  Wish I could go home."  She wrote about their Thanksgiving company, but that it "wasn't like being at home."  By February 4 her letters took a sad turn:  "Well, I have been here 1 year and it seems like it has been 2 years in a way, and again it don't seem so long.  Just to be isolated.  Just set here, nobody to see or call to talk to or anything to pass off time.  No friends to come in.  It is the worst place I was ever in not to have no neighbors.  Not like W. Va."  In her next letter she wrote, "I have been down here over a year, and it seems like a long time to be cooped up, but thank the Lord I am still here.  I would rather be back home.  There is still no place like home."  No, Grandma, there really isn't anyplace like home. 
In March she is making plans to go to West Virginia.  "I hope to go to W. Va. this summer some time if the good Lord be willing and just give me health & strength.  My head says feet stick with me and we will go places, but some times they say I can't go."  In April after I had apparently written about my trip home for Easter, she wrote, "Would love to been with you but seems like I won't get back up there any more, and I would love to go."  She continues that her daughter in California wanted her to come out there, and her daughter in Arizona would come to get her as soon as school was out on June 3.  She closes the letter by saying, "Well, I guess you are tired of this gab."  No, Grandma, I wasn't tired of it.  Her last letter closed with, "Love & may God bless and keep you."  He has, Grandma. 

She never made it home until she died October 4, 1969.  She lived with Carrie only a few months when she developed esophageal cancer. I love reading the old letters of encouragement and news and weather reports, the letters she pondered over and wrote with her mis-shapened hands.  Dear Grandma, I wish you a "Happy Birthday", love, Janet.


  1. Janet, I loved this blog. I have some very similar memories about my childhood at my Grand mother's house. Thank you for helping me to recall them. Nice read.

  2. oh my! This is my great grandmother Amick! I remember playing chinese checkers all the time she visited in San Diego. I cherish those moments.