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 Floydy Anna rather than Floyd 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 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 who would have worked on the farm or at the factory and mill now commute to larger towns. Also as 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.
In Nederland, Colorado, you won’t hear a train whistle, although I am writing in a Colorado & Southern coach built in 1906 and hauled up from Boulder. Now a coffee shop in 2008, it is Lego’d to a caboose full of ski merchandise and to Buffalo Bill’s circus car, another import. A few segments of narrow-gauge rails do exist here and there in town, but they hold rusty mine-carts that have been detached from their original concatenation and turned into floral planters.
When Marjory and I arrived here to visit our daughter, we immediately felt a kinship between “Ned,” as it’s often called, and Floyd, our retirement home in Virginia. In fact we keep calling Nederland “Floyd.” Both towns mark the junction of two highways. Although Ned has about 1400 inhabitants—three times as many as Floyd—it has no stoplight but instead a roundabout shared by five roads. more »
Original version printed in the Floyd Press, 2012
On a bright, cool autumn morning we parked in front of an old house on North 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.
Passing the Farmers’ Supply, 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. more »
[August 15, 2013]. 2966 words. Contact Randall A. Wells, firstname.lastname@example.org]
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.
A vehicle with a flat tire sits in front of Black Water Loft. Next day, it’s still there. The first week I am indignant at this eyesore, this suggestion of the old guard’s tendency toward political and cultural inertia. Including an Old Time religion still drowsy from the Great Awakening. Our friend declared that one member of the Board of Supervisors “won’t do anything that’s not in the Bible.” A former commissioner (a native and a friend of ours), said that his epitaph should read “Died for lack of a second.” Perhaps the airless, squashed tread was even a symbol of absent inspiration—like the old priest’s flat bicycle tire in “Araby,” a story by James Joyce. Did it not also seem to represent and aggravate the town’s annual commercial hibernation?
The second week I inclined toward something like tolerance, even as a snow-patch now covered the tread. The third week I started to feel—what was it? “Randall,” I told myself, “stop and smell the Goodyears. Enjoy this culture. Nobody asked you to come here. What if everybody was like you, always Doing, exploring, afraid of wasted time, uncomfortable with stasis. You won’t even use a drive-in window but have to get out walk in. You don’t have to ‘pedal faster’ like the cross-trainer machine tells you to do when you stop for water. You are not a waitress at Cracker Barrel, so you don’t have to demonstrate ‘urgency with a purpose.’ This is 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.”
Quote by Samuel Pickering from May Days © The University of Iowa Press. 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.
My story began with an exhortation. Jane Cundiff urged readers of the Floyd Press (April 11, 2013) to mow less grass, and instead plant clover and wildflowers to help feed bees and butterflies, insects that seem threatened on several fronts. Half a year earlier I had saved one honeybee (Apis mellifera) in Paris by plucking its scrambling bottom out of an expresso cup with a spoon, so why not make a wholesale rescue?
The Wellses agreed to an environmental compromise. Marge would once again plant wildflowers in the uninviting soil of one hillside of weeds, blackberry bushes, and volunteer trees. Across Annie Lane to the west I would plant clover in bare clay spots that spread erratically over a semi-grassy field. Our friend Bill Conk—of accent Brooklyn, Buddhist of outlook—had scraped it flat with tractor and blade. Yet only partly level because it slopes to both north and west toward the invisible curving Highway 221. In local fashion, Bill accepted a small amount of money but all the hemlock from our dismantled deck, planks that he would repurpose as a shed. Afterward we had planted the area in grass—a “monoculture” to Jane–in order to make a rough yard for grandchildren and to accentuate a clearing between house and up-growing forest. 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’ tokes. 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 »
Betty “Sunny” McAtic Bernardine: Back to the Land, 1930-42 in Illinois
In the 1970s, a wave of people moved to Floyd County in search of a simpler, natural, and often communal life. They followed the horse-tracks of the original European settlers, who came for for land, however hilly and remote. Since acreage was cheaper than in the Christiansburg area, these immigrants rolled and clopped southward, somehow crossing the New River. This back-to-the land movement was anticipated during the Great Depression by one of Floyd County’s retirees, Betty McAtic Bernardine, born in 1926.
In 1930 she and her family moved from Chicago to a hamlet west of the city for an economic reason: to grow their own food. Almost seventy years later she settled atop a ridge on Cannady School Rd. where she privately and passionately maintained a dog shelter for the Floyd County Humane Society.
It is ironic that Sunny’s childhood venture from city to country began with her mother’s escape from rural Giles County in far southwestern Virginia. Huldah Salome Medley was born in Kire, “Up Stony Creek.” Sunny’s grandfather ran a lumber camp and made a little moonshine. Her mother used to cook for the camp at about seventeen. Her older sister was nineteen or twenty and married; when the couple was about to move to Kansas, Huldah decided she’d go with them, unbeknownst to her parents. So she ran away from home. She went down to the train station, where somebody saw her. “Oh, I’m just seeing off my sister”–she made an excuse. In Kansas, Huldah got a job in a hotel but it was too much like housework. Then she saw an ad for telephone operator in Chicago and traveled there in 1917. Although that was the job for young women, the employers were very strict with their girls, who had to be in by a certain time, pronounce everything just so. “The minute she saw those wide streets….” Soon afterward, about 1922, she married William Reynold McAtic, who was trying to escape from the coal mines in northeastern Ohio. Sunny’s memoir: 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 »
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 personages in Floyd County. Examples? One woman clerks at a “dollar” store, speaks with a Long Island accent, and lives in Hillsville. Two women crossed paths at the other “dollar” on the opposite side of town. One had 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. The other wore a net-like cap, a print dress, gray stockings, sensible shoes and spectacles, and the expression “I am invisible.” Other residents? One works for two weeks a month in Alaska. And the retiree who raises goats–how much help does he get from that M.D. degree? Some of the Came-Heres have a country background. Ralph Roe, for example, worked as an engineer in California but grew up on a farm in New York:
We had about forty cows, one bull, two horses, one dog, and fourteen cats. They all had names except for the chickens and pigs. Mabel might get three scoops of grain, whereas Bertha would only deserve two. The grain looked and tasted like granola and had some drops of molasses in it (like honey in a granola bar). Of course, being vegetarians, their main courses were dried hay and whole cornstalks chopped up, which included the ears. (For a photograph of the lad in the early 1940s, please see “Footsteps in Floyd 6.”)
A literally graphic example: the two people in Portrait of Floyd (see “Downtown Floyd at its Best”) whose photographs were displayed most prominently are most dissimilar. Both live in the Check area, but the bearded Arthur Conner (pictured opposite, 2012, by permission) crossed the Himalayas twice in the military, and he seems as authentic and complex as the bass fiddle grasped by the hands that fashioned it. In her portrait (not shown), River Roberts, almost eighty years younger, seems to be resting momentarily like a sprite who has been running around in many-laced high-tops. Contributing to the modest ethnic variety, a number of hard-working people maintain a low profile and keep their nacionalidad to themselves.
As for the county’s ethos, residents show a lot of kindness. When I asked someone to give an example, she thought for several moments. “Gannon,” she replied. “People regularly give him rides.” (This fellow took one-too-many rides in high school and walks with no cooperation from one leg.) As everywhere, however, there are conflicts, grudges, ex-es. A few people give “neighbor” a bad name–for example by operating heavy equipment at 5 a.m. on a Sunday. Politically there is dyspepsia: for instance, at a TEDx conference sponsored by Blue Mountain School, a speaker mentioned an elected official and brought a loud, collective groan from one pocket of the audience.
In Floyd County, residents vary greatly as to what they eat. At one extreme, people demand organic foods such as raw pepital, local beets, calendula flower, Medjool dates, and Nori sesame seeds, as well as sometimes-exotic grub like Sharwood’s Indian poppodums. (Non-edibles might include Waleda Sea Buckthorn body lotion and even Total Kidney Cleanse.) The white-breaders, by contrast, may keep a garden like the health-foodie, but at the grocery store they follow the recipe of the sociology textbook: whole milk, lots of meat, fatty and salty snacks, soda pop, not to forget cookies. One rotund person wheeled out a shopping cart crammed with about sixty bottles of soda pop. One parent bought a bottle of Pepsi the same size as her young daughter’s belly. For one customer in line, a balanced diet was Schlitz & cigs. White bread includes a fried bologna and Velveeta biscuit at Hardees.
All these physical and social variations are complicated by the passage of time. As Heraclitus said about a river: Nobody ever steps into the same one twice, for neither the river nor the person is the same. A song asks, “Who will watch the home place?” (As performed by the acoustic quartet Windfall, it barely avoids sounding waltzy-schmaltzy.) The answer for many derelict farmhouses in Floyd County is “raccoons.” More positively, El Tenador, a roller skating rink on Rt. 221 that operated in the 1940s and ’50s, was reincarnated as Phoenix Hardwoods. An estate sale in the Floyd Press lists obsolete items to be auctioned off such as a horse-drawn wagon-frame, milk cans, and an apple-butter kettle & stirrer–not much there to repurpose. But after forty years, a former Christmas-tree farm declines into a motley woods and then becomes slated for restoration–a culling process powered by horses in a return to an ancient, salutary technique.
If a writer tries to impose too much order on all the lavishly heterogeneous, inconsistent, and sometimes mysterious details of a place, the groceries will start to fall out of the bag or rip it. How daunting to sense the whole from the parts! An ancient fable tells of three blind Hindus that tried to identify an animal. The first sat on a stool, clasped a heavy sac on the creature’s belly, and squeezed its several downward-protuberances; the second moved his hand over its long, rigid beak; the third petted its shaggy—wait a minute, something’s wrong here. Ah, maybe these guys were Chinese. Anyway, it is futile to apprehend a place from any one perspective. And yet, in pursuit of the Bald Truth, your author takes the dare.
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 »
By the Rev. Harry L. Strong
Floyd County has exported many a chestnut tree, many a shirt and piece of furniture, many a gallon of moonshine–and many a person. To give but one example: Charles Winn Surber, valedictorian of Floyd High School’s Class of 1971, is a management consultant of international stature.I myself learned that two of my pre-Floyd friends have one or more ancestors who emigrated from the county.
When Marjory and I moved to South Carolina, one of her clients (as a Certified Nurse-Midwife) was Beth West. Her husband Steve and I taught at the same college, where ultimately I had the pleasure of teaching their first two babies. Thirty years later Beth was amazed to learn that we had bought property in Floyd County, where she remembered visiting Topeka Church as a girl. She explained that the family of her great-great uncle, Jacob Orrin Boone, b. 1888, had probably left the area to find work in the woolen mills of Spray, North Carolina—now Eden, where she was raised. Although unsure of the details, she knew that the family had started the Brethren Church after they moved. Her great grandmother (Jake’s sister) was Mary Frances Boone Miles; her great-great grandmother was Sarah Ellen Ballinger Boone, who married Isaac Monroe Boone. Coincidently, Steve’s great uncle was George Beverley West of Floyd (1897-1975); although not a Left-Here, he does exemplify the many connections between people of this county and those across the Little River. Both he and Jake served in World War I, during which Jake was killed.
In a suburb of Chicago, 1958-60, Randall walked to high school with Harry Lee Strong and two other friends. Almost fifty years after that Harry, too, was amazed to learn that his former sidewalk-companion had retired to Floyd County; for his ancestors had grown up there and departed in 1905. He vividly remembered a pilgrimage that he and family members had taken to the old home-grounds in 1957. Then in 2011 Harry and his wife Anna visited the same area while spending a few days with the Wellses. In 2014 he generously recorded these elegaic memories of the 1957 and 2011 visits.
My grandparents, William Clifton Strong and Delphia Frances Phillips, were married July 25, 1895. To my knowledge, I do have one surviving first cousin, my Aunt Ola’s daughter, who is named Frances and who clearly was named after the mother of Ola’s and my dad’s mother. Eighty-seven years old, she has lived all her life in Carthage—a town in Hancock County, Illinois, where the family moved from Floyd County in 1905. Apparently, following their emigration, my grandparents (and family, including my dad, who was one-and-a-half at the time of the move) farmed near Denver, Illinois, in Hancock County.
At the age of fourteen, I traveled to Virginia from Glen Ellyn with my father (R. Lee Strong), my mother (Helen Gerard Strong), my aunt (Ola May James Strong), and my uncle (David Kenneth Strong). We stayed three or four nights at the Willis farm home of Everett and Mary “Effie” Strong Mangus.
Effie was the sister of my grandfather, William. Also staying at the farm at the time was their granddaughter, Martha Dulaney (from North Carolina, another Left-here).
Martha’s mother was Virginia, the daughter of Everett and Effie. [Dulaney Rd. runs off of White Rock Rd. in the northwest part of Floyd County. RW]
We also spent several nights over in Radford with the Phillips family: William (father), Eula (mother), Larry (son), and Becky (daughter). To this day, I am not positive of my exact relationship with Becky and Larry or their parents, Bill and Eula. However, these are the three possibilities I’ve calculated: their father, or Bill’s mother, or his father was from the Phillips clan and therefore a sister (or brother) of Delphia Phillips Strong, my grandmother. I think that would make Bill (or Eula) my dad’s first cousin. You genealogists can compute what that makes Larry and Becky to me.
The five of us also spent an afternoon in Christiansburg at the home of (the senior) “Aunt Ola.” We also enjoyed a Sunday afternoon picnic at the farm of A.O. and Ethel Salmons near Riner. Since A.O.’s last name was Salmons, I can only conclude that Ethel (his wife) may have been the one to have a genealogical connection to the Strongs or the Phillips. I’m doing considerable inferring here (because I have no older relatives who can confirm or refute this, other than my first cousin, Frances–but I have to believe my “Aunt Ola” (Dad’s sister) was named after this older “Aunt Ola.” That would have made the “senior Ola” the sister of my grandfather William.
It’s been difficult being an only child of parents (and a family) that never talked much about their roots and lineage. However, during one week of the summer of 1957, when I was fourteen, through a foggy window, I had a brief glimpse of my father’s Floyd County roots and his relatives whom I would never see again.
Looking back on that trip (and, especially, my return trip to Floyd County in July of 2011), I am surprised to discover that apparently the Strong and Phillips families were very well-known at the turn of the last century (1899-1900). The Strong Mill, for example! How I wish I knew whether or not the Henry Duncan Mill and the E. F. (“Ed”) Strong Mill played any part in my ancestors’ move from Virginia to Illinois. (The Water-Powered Mills of Floyd County, Virginia, by Franklin F. Webb and Ricky L. Cox; McFarland & Company, Inc., 2012). But the answer to that question may be lost forever. What I can say, definitively, is that is that E. F. (“Ed”) Strong (b. November, 1873) and my grandfather, William Clifton Strong (b. May, 1875), were brothers! Was there a family dispute? Did my grandfather buy out his share of the mill from Ed? Perhaps you, a reader of this book, hold the answer.
In July 2011, I basked in three fulfilling, enriching, sometimes haunting days in Floyd County tracing steps I had last taken fifty-four years before. I got gooseflesh as I found the remnants of Willis, VA, and the site of the Mangus farm, where I had stayed and slept. I had brought with me two sets of photographs from that 1957 trek to Virginia. The dramatically remodeled home was almost unrecognizable and unoccupied–but I left behind one set of photos in the mailbox. I attached a note to tell the owners (or renters) who I was (mentioning the Mangus name), where I was from (Divide, Colorado, at the time, including my contact information), and told them the photos dated back to 1957. I never heard back from them. But, for me, revisiting that site was a sacred moment!
What was even more moving was discovering the Strong Cemetery a half-mile up the hill, where, back in 1957, I had visited with my distant cousin Martha. My ancestors were everywhere! I wanted to sit down at the grave of every Strong who had staked out a plot, and wait, and listen, and say “Thank you”–thank you for whatever part you played in the fact that I am here today. “Are you responsible for my follically-challenged scalp?” “Did cucumbers give you gas like they do me?” “Did I get my neatnik tendencies from you? Even though you grew up on a farm, did you hate getting dirt under your fingernails? Me too!”
In 2011, I also visited my grandmother’s family at the Phillips Cemetery. I was not surprised to find William and Eula’s tombstones (for back in ’57 they were older than my parents). I was shocked and saddened, however, to find Larry and Becky’s tombstones as well! We were teens in 1957; Larry was was a little older than I, Becky a little younger, and I had a crush on her. When I saw her tombstone in 2011, it was as if someone had dropped an anvil on my chest. The inscription read: “Rebecca Ann Phillips: December 27, 1945 – March 24, 2006.” I’m guessing she never married. I hope she had a good life and was happy. Maybe once in a great while she thought of me and our three days in 1957. I still think of her.