Floydiana is a serial book, not a blog. Chapter by chapter it explores life in Floyd, a town and county in Southern Virginia. The area’s mixture of people is as unlikely as its scenery is “Look at That!”
Floydiana does not refer to a place–unlike Michiana, a seven-county region of southwest Michigan and northern Indiana. And unlike Floydada, a place in Texas. Instead it is a collection–like Shakespeariana, which is an accumulation of items by and about the playwright. It is pronounced Floydee-Anna rather than Floy-Diana. It records events, people, words, animals, places, scenes, and ways that characterize the improbable Land of Floyd County, Virginia.
It does not (as a friend pretended to think) capture the adventures of Indiana Jones in this part of the Blue Ridge Plateau, although the author does wear a hat to protect his generous scalp. Another friend mis-remembered the title as Floydorama but therefore caught the idea. Floydlandia? No such debt to Sibelius. Nor does this enterprise have anything to do with Floy Diane, who grew up in the Low Country of South Carolina. And it has no connection with Floydioli, a hand-made vegetarian stuffed pasta that uses local and organic ingredients. The book probably reflects the author’s earlier inclination to write about local South Carolina, where he directed the Horry County Oral History Project (please see hcohp.net). But more immediately Floydiana grows out of a column that the author wrote for The Floyd Press, and it salvages a few of those pieces. You are reading an electronic book like the author’s Angel in Goggles (please see tab), yet it has no predetermined length or conclusion, and in fact no ending in sight.
The author will probably correct, augment, re-order, or otherwise play with the manuscript. Unlike a blog, Floydiana progresses not by brief chronological entries but instead chapter by chapter in an order and pace determined by the author. The writing, moreover, is partly communal.
Like the wagons that hauled grain to its now-defunct watermills, Floyd County offers an axle-busting load of grist to a writer. The place is a fascinating mixture of the congenial, beautiful, diverse, disturbing, and (on the roads) even dangerous. Located on the Blue Ridge Plateau in the southwest part of the state, it points its northeastern corner toward Roanoke, or “Ro’noke.” (Map of Virginia counties.)
The Blue Ridge Parkway pretty much defines its ragged northeast-to-southwest border. The county has 15,000-16,000 residents and one proper town of about 450 people, also called Floyd, which boasts the county’s single traffic light at the nexus of Rts. 8 and 221. Its tricolor progression can be perceived in winter from the deck of the Wells retirement house, a log dwelling that is technically a lodge in square footage but that we call “the Cabin” in rustic indulgence.
Although most of the residents are white, the county is a mixture of Appalachian-stock families, folks of hippy heritage that goes back to the 1970s, other residents who are countercultural to one degree or another, artisans, people who moved here for the landscape and atmosphere, and some who returned after pursuing opportunity or serving Uncle Sam.
As for employment, many citizens now commute to larger towns instead of working on the farm, at the factory, or at the mill. (Not to forget the still. For a study of moonshining in adjacent Franklin county, see Charles D. Thompson Jr., Spirits of Just Men, Univ. of Illinois Pr, 2011). Also as more than partial compensation for the loss of former jobs, many work via the Internet—for example a veterinarian from Kentucky who fabricates and sells horse-rescue harnesses.
How did one tourist learn about the area? “I Googled ‘pottery and bed & breakfasts.’”
Now about your septuagenarian author. Almost four decades ago he wrote a column for a South Carolina newspaper that became the nucleus for a book, Along the Waccamaw: A Yankee Discovers a Home by the River (Algonquin 1990). He was raised as a white Midwestern suburbanite Christian Republican, but of all these defining features has retained only the complexion. Before retiring to Virginia he lived in Wyoming and Connecticut as well as other Southern states: Tennessee, North Carolina, Mississippi, and South Carolina, this last where he and Marjory spent most of their careers near the ocean.
He has also literally traveled around the world, with a friend. Word has it that he uses a performance-enhancing drug grown in Colombia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, perhaps on his own acreage.
He gratefully recognizes two predecessors. Ms. Morgan Cain Grim wrote “Familiar Faces,” a series on Floydians home-grown and transplanted. She recorded more than sixty interviews, each with a photograph, before graduating from Floyd High School in 2005. Mr. Fred First wrote “The Road Less Traveled,” which ran biweekly from 2004 until 2011.
This column fervently appreciated the county’s natural resources and, backed by abundant research, cast a chilly eye on threats to the health of Mother Earth. Fred has written two books on the area, Slow Road Home and What We Hold in Our Hands, takes ace photographs, and keeps a well-read blog.
For this project Randall is heavily and happily indebted to his wife and friends, especially Fred First with his technical expertise (also vital to Angel in Goggles). The author dedicates Floydiana to his late brother, Greg Wells, who introduced Randall and Marjory to Floyd County. Although they are here without him, without him they would not be here.
Original version printed serially in 2008 by The Floyd Press and The Mountain-Ear (Nederland, CO).
A place is a comparison. Its identity can be appreciated only by reference. “Bland County,” declared one native, “is Floyd without the stoplight.” Like him, anybody who moves to this geographical-cultural area known as “Floyd” will bring a geographical overlay of memory. The author, for example, regards the corner at The Stoplight as the town’s noisy industrial area—much like the two railroads that divided the genteel Glen Ellyn, Illinois. more »
A region, country, satrap, province, county or town is never a single place but a collection of them.
To all this variety of locales add the multiplicity of people. The tall, bearded nun, the bejeweled Cleopatra of a CPA–no, I should leave aside costumed folks at the Halloween Dance, Pine Tavern Pavilion. But there are many unpredictable, paradoxical, and diverse personages in Floyd County. Examples?
One woman clerks at a “dollar” store, speaks with a Long Island accent, and lives in Hillsville. At the other “dollar” on the opposite side of town, one woman parked a truck displaying a sticker “I am the Gun Lobby.” A little bumptious, she wore cowgirl boots, jeans, and a shirt that didn’t mind moving up and down a little at the bare midriff. Another wore a net-like cap, a print dress, gray stockings, sensible shoes and spectacles, and the expression “I am invisible.” At Floyd Pharmacy one customer reported that the child accompanying her had woken up before dawn to buy a tractor with Daddy; another told the clerk, in a New York accent, that she still owned property in Brooklyn. One of the most prominent members of the alternative community came here decades ago from where else but British Columbia. One native, Susan Osborne, is an alternative-influenced physician who sings, paints, plays the violin, and runs the Barter Clinic; there she exemplifies the best of unhurried Floyd Time with her patients. more »
In about 1847 a thirteen-year old arrived in Jacksonville, Virginia—later named Floyd. No family stories explain how he traveled there, how long the journey took, who might have accompanied him, or how he felt about his lost past and unknown future.
Born in Bedford, Virginia, to the wife of a country doctor. James Lucas Tompkins was eventually joined by twelve more siblings. Too many eggs for one carton, so the oldest was sent to live with his mother’s brother, Dr. Tazewell Headen, and his wife. The couple had no children–youngsters at that time were part of the labor force–so James worked at their mercantile store. He also attended Oxford Academy in town and later worked at other stores in the area.
Original version printed in the Floyd Press, 2012 On a bright, cool autumn morning we parked in front of an old house on E. Main Street (Rt. 221). Our five-year old grandson Sidney had to explore the half-hidden driveway with its cement statue of an angel. Then he walked up the hill toward The Stoplight with two-year-old brother Julien as various extended hands rushed to catch up with them. Baby Alice watched it all as our daughter Andrea held her in a front-loaded BabyBjörn. “Exit only,” read Sidney aloud at a parking lot, surprised at his new ability.
We turned at the county’s Sole Stoplight corner, seen in this video:
Passing Farmers’ Supply Corp., 101 E. Main St., I asked the boy to look up at the foreshortened white letters, adding: “We can read those from the cabin with binoculars.” Now four of us climbed, and one rode, up the twenty-five steps and two switchbacks to Black Water Loft. (This name confused us a little, for in the Lowcountry because blackwater rivers are tea-colored infusions of biomass rather than fluxes of brown mud.) Julien was already snuggled in the lap of his father, who, visiting from Charlotte, was working there in his “Floyd office” composed of table, computer, earphones, and decaf.
Although able to name at least three of the McCutchan sisters, I confused the decaf latte with the cappuccino when I toted them to the Country Store to supplement our lunch. Over sandwiches we watched a gallery of citizens pass by the window. The boys explored the aisles and found that they needed Sky Streaks–balsa airplanes with a red propellor and blue rubber band.
:Born in 1929, Margie was able to escape the drudgery of farm work in 1946 and retired back to Floyd County in 2000. She lives near the author on the edge of Rt. 221: “I can’t wait till FloydFest is over,” she declared as vehicle after vehicle charged up the hill. Her house and former used-book store occupies a remodeled building formerly used by the Floyd Church of God. “It was fun to say ‘I recycled a church.'” In 2013 the once-sturdy farm girl is fragile and white-haired, but she still has a sparkle of both mien and mind that was no doubt appreciated by her employers. A smart dresser, politically liberal, Margie speaks quietly with a non-Appalachian Southern accent. Along with her two cats she listens to classical music on WVTF Public Radio. Her collaborator on this autobiography, Randall A. Wells, along with his wife Marjory, occasionally drive down the hill to take her a little supper (“I don’t cook”), and she sometimes bestows on them a thoughtfully-chosen volume. Margie notes that while she sent Wells to the dictionary for the word “slopping,” he sent her there for “deracinate”—a verb that is fundamental to her memoir.
I was born in a house, still standing, across the road from the present Willis Elementary School. I was the first of five daughters born to Jabe and Hattie Hylton Keith. When I was still a small child, we moved to the Cundiff farm in the Topeco Community, where we lived during the Great Depression of the Thirties. The house had no electricity. Light was from kerosene lamps. Wood stoves were used for cooking and heating. Water for drinking, cooking, laundry and bathing was carried up the hill from a spring in the woods. The toilet was down the path.
We had a Philco battery radio. Before she married, my mother bought a Victrola and some records. (She had been a teacher in one-room schools in the Burks Fork area, around the Buffalo.) When electricity came, we got a refrigerator and made strawberry ice cream with wild berries. more »
Original version printed serially in the Floyd Press, 2012-13.
“My watch starts tickin’ slower as I cross that county line” from “Floyd Time,” by Rusty May. Floyd Time, Windfall/Windfall Studios, 2010. By permission.
Traffic comes to a halt on South Locust (Rt. 8). The door of a car ahead flings open as a woman leaves it ajar to run across the street to the sidewalk by the Country Store, where she lovingly and loudly plucks a cat from someone’s arms. Nobody honks. A treasured example of what’s appreciatively called Floyd Time. more »
Original version printed in the Floyd Press, 2013
One of the pleasures of living in Floyd County can be walking through its photo-every-hundred-feet landscape.
Marge and I turned off Rt. 221 South a mile or so from town, then parked on the shoulder next to a raspberry bush, worked to close the Subaru door against downhill gravity, and started hiking. We noticed a few huffs after a winter month spent on the coast and in Florida. Reaching the crest, we gazed to the right at the February sun as it just managed to beam over the hills. The cheerful blue sky was getting serious.
Barking dogs, a breed familiar to walkers, got pulled inside by an accommodating owner. Now on the left, a pair of ears–prominent black ones making a V. A few of the animals regarded us from a pen. Mules? Donkeys? But one pair had a sort of beige spotted coat. “Llama!” exclaimed Marge. “No, alpaca,” she amended. Now as we passed the statue of an angel reading, I felt kinda sorry for it: why not put the book down and join us?! Near the end of a long slope, we drew opposite a sort of barn that framed two black rectangles, one of which in turn framed a long black nose with a white streak down the middle. “Hi, horsie.” No motion. We remembered feeding it grass over the fence in summer. more »
The seen defines the seer. Seer–O word felicitous because your author is able to apprehend the Bald Truth! And for the reader, what luck! “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18).
And yet…. In truth, the people all see a different Floyd County. A farmer watching from his John Deere as it turns noise and grass to hay. A tourist descending from the Parkway on Rt. 8 and passing a sample yurt, then the ugly-rusty relic of a water tower. An employee crossing one branch or the other of the Little River to work in an adjacent county. A family drifting or paddling down the same river and encountering a party of back-to-the-birthday-suiters. A crowd of Gay Pride folks standing near The Stoplight while chatting, laughing, and holding placards while a very conservative couple walks to the car from their business across the street. A Mennonite in an ankle-length skirt shopping near a woman with tight jeans and tattooed arms. A trim child swimming in a hidden-away pond, another with a potbelly watching his friends play video games. One old-timer pulling turnips at dusk before they freeze. Another sweeping an arm of contempt at the changes in downtown Floyd and calling “All this” a “mess.” A visitor exclaiming, “You have a paradise here!” more »
“The meadow of dream has little to do with stoney reality and its harrows and reapers.”
Quotation by Samuel Pickering, Jr., from May Days © The University of Iowa Press, 1988. Used with permission.
So declares Samuel F. Pickering, Jr., on p. 3 of a volume given to me by Margie Keith, owner of a former used-book store. Although the writer was sympathizing with farmers, his observation pertained to Randall, who dreamed of eliminating rocks from a quarter-acre of Blue Ridge to make way for clover and then for bees. more »
by Laurel Brooke
FloydFest is a world-renowned socio-musical extravaganza held at the end of July on what was once pasture-land. Long hillsides near the Blue Ridge Parkway bear permanent structures for bands and dancers, and the edges of the midway sprout annual tents and booths. July 25-28, 2013, saw the twelfth installment of this “roots and progressive” music festival, which attracted more people than Floyd County has residents. It also brought rain on one or two days, and only ark was one of the many shuttle-buses. Among the vendors was Laurel Brooke, sixteen years old. How many FloydFesters would realize that someone making their barbecue sandwich plays the violin in the Roanoke Symphony Youth Orchestra? As a home-schooler, she was tutored by Randall, who commissioned this story as an assignment. more »
Why do Americans rank so low as to longevity compared to other industrialized countries? The National Institute of Health found that one reason was our dependence on cars—which in turn helps to create neighborhoods that discourage walking. (AARP Bulletin, March 2013). It can be a challenge to find walkable places in Floyd County neighborhoods, where houses tend to be situated off narrow, busy roads, but residents can sometimes find them. One retired couple has done so. Sarah generously presents a colorful first-hand report on the four-mile walk that she and Peter have enjoyed for six years. Passing through a scenic area, it starts at the junction of Moles Road and Thistle Hill Road in the vicinity of Daddy Rabbit’s Campground. The road is paved but has challenging hills.
We walk early in the morning. Weather does not usually deter us. There is not much traffic and we are a familiar sight to most who travel it. We are always greeted with a wave or a honk, and sometimes there may be a brief chat by the road. more »
On June 21, the icy peaks of the Southern Alps jut from New Zealand as the sun hangs on to the northern horizon by its fingernails. But at the same time, rays flood the Blue Ridge Mountains in the United States. This phenomenon is best appreciated in a group, for it blends celestial mysticism with a touch of–well, think of cows eating fermented apples.
In 2013 a ceremony was held on the abundant acreage of Fred and Ann First. You get there from The Stoplight by taking Highway 221 north, then turning left at King’s Store–monarchical of name but historical of inventory–then some miles later by making a dogleg at a business named Clyde S. Angle, vacant as well. Then you go down a hill so long that it would wear the tires off a Boxcar Derby racer. Finally you scrutinize the oncoming curve before darting left down to a narrow bridge. It might carry you onto a gravel road–made of dirt, holes, and curves, maybe puddles or snow-patches, all decorated by downed branches–that probably keeps you from tumbling into Goose Creek as it passes an occasional abandoned house, various tucked-away homesteads, and an antique fire engine. When your hopes flag, and you definition of “close friends” threatens to become geographical, you are halfway to the First farmhouse which, even after being rebuilt, hints of the previous dwellers more »
We came home from a party at dusk, which in late May seemed unhurried, even reluctant to disappear over the western horizon. Climbing out of the passenger’s seat, I decided to work off some alco-calories by raking up more stones from the field to be sown with clover for bees. Having donned work clothes and boots, I grabbed the handles of the wheelbarrow, which carried the familiar rake, shovel, and rubber basket, and turned it around toward the front of the carport. Above and behind the Subaru–was that a shape? It resolved into something elongated and animated—like the snout of a horse. Was it not bobbing along with several other horse-heads, mainly dark-colored, one of the animals a brown and white paint? This phantasmagoria shuffled and breathed. The beasts made a side-view tableau as if having migrated from the stampeded in the Roper shirt I had bought at the Floyd Country Store. Already a bit dizzy, I feared that I was hallucinating and skeptically remembered a wine called “La Linda.” To make things worse—was that fourth creature an amalgamation of long-haired bison, black sheep, and mastiff? more »
by Becky Pomponio
Davy Crockett claimed to have killed more than one hundred black bears (Ursus americanus) in one year. While Crockett’s boast can not be confirmed, he was not alone in his determination to conquer these majestic animals. By 1900, the population of black bears which only live in North America, had fallen from an estimated two million to 200,000, because of hunting and habitat destruction. In the area now designated as Shenandoah National Park, bears nearly disappeared. Fortunately, for the diversity of our ecosystem, black bear populations persisted west of the Allegheny Mountains, and those that migrated eastward may have been the great-great-grandparents of our Floyd County bears. Hunting restrictions have helped a lot. The North American black bear population now numbers about 900,000. Many of these bears are in Alaska and Canada. About 6000 of them live in Virginia and I’ve personally met one or two on our land. more »
Despite and because of its rural and mountainous character, Floyd County offers a mixed backpack to walkers, runners, and hikers.
“Every piece of property around here is owned,” declared Beth Cherrix:
“So if you take a step in either direction you’re on somebody else’s property. If you run, you trespass. So you have to find somebody else’s property that’s runnable. You may have what seems a perfectly good road but a lot of times they’re too curvy, so I’m afraid I’ll be hit. Usually you have to go into town and use the sidewalks, or go on a back road that has little traffic, or go on trails [usually along the Blue Ridge Parkway]. They’re nice, but you have to have transportation. For some people that’s kind of hard to do, depending also on where they live.” more »
Whoever builds a two-story dwelling on a Floyd County ridge can expect to shelter mammals from the order Chiroptera, Greek for “hand-wing.”
Someone explained to us that bats need a high place from which to take off so they can fall a bit while getting enough lift. Over our bedroom came a scuffling that unnerved us, as did the one-at-a-time forays at dusk. We felt like guests in a Bat & Breakfast. So even though the animals consume insect pests—and indeed, we had never seen a mosquito–we hired exterminators to ameliorate the situation. Workers attached a slack net to a crevice under a window; when the bats crawled down, they couldn’t return—like the proverbial umbrella that can go up the chimney down but not down the chimney up. The company also tested the batbugs that lay near our bathroom window, mainly dead but a few dying. This species ignores people but plague bats–one of nature’s ironies, insects preying on insect-gobblers. more »
One paradox of Floyd County: however isolated and bucolic, it feels the strong influence of a large university, Virginia Tech. The school’s main concession to Appalachia is a wild turkey, the basis of its maroon and orange mascot, the “hokie.” Located in Blacksburg, in the next county north, it has 31,000 students—twice the number of Floyd County residents. With its 8 colleges, 65 bachelor’s degree programs, 125 buildings, 2600 acres, and an airport, it exerts even more of an influence than Radford University in Radford, home of almost 10,000 students.
Impacts of the large research institution are multiple. A number of Floydians commute to the school for employment, or perhaps to businesses started by the Tech-connected. Others retired from teaching or otherwise working there and moved to Floyd County, sometimes to start businesses. Many studied at Tech, for example Morgan Cain Grim, mentioned in the introduction to Floydiana. Some couples even met there—for example, Chris Prokosch (from Connecticut) and Shannon Green (from Louisiana), who studied architecture and now live in their self-designed house on Little River. Lydeana Martin earned both her graduate degrees from Tech; as the county’s Community and Economic Development Director, she affirms that both students and faculty “have helped businesses and non-profits as well as public entities.” The economic life of this area quickens when visitors, especially football fans, sojourn in the county, or when students drive down for the Friday Night Jamboree–perhaps to win the From Farthest Away cap and wear it back in China or Australia. more »
The Glimpsed depends on the Glimpser. Randall, for example, won’t have much to report about working on a farm because he already put in his four hours. The Wellses’ membership in a Community Supported Agriculture required them do tasks like checking the fence to discover where the deer got in, cutting lettuce-leaves off at the ground, swishing lettuce heads in a tank to get the sand off, and cutting weeds from rows so long that they followed the curvature of the earth. He little resembles the native who wakes up at 5:30, feeds sixty-five cows on his parents’ farm, then lays bricks in another county, then returns to feed more cows.
Like all observers, this newcomer can be unreliable. Only after describing Webbs Mill as a three-dimensional pen-and-ink sketch did he perceive that its boards are umber, same color as the surrounding winter-hardwoods. And how could the Jacksonville Center grow a second silo? When he spotted a hint of Annie Lane from Storkers Knob, across the valley, what should loom up some miles past the hill behind the ridge but the bluish hump of Buffalo Mountain. more »