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 Shakespeareana, 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. Natives are apt to employ two syllables: “Flow-eed.”
It does not (as a friend pretended to think) capture the Virginian adventures of Indiana Jones, although the author does wear a hat to protect his generous scalp. Another friend mis-remembered the title as Floydorama. How about 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 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 newspaper column. When the column failed to thrive, the writer left it on the doorstep of The Floyd Press and adopted Baby Blog. This infant grew and grew into an electronic book (like the author’s Angel in Goggles–please see tab). Although this offspring had no predetermined length, organization, or conclusion, it ended up covering the years 2012-2016. And much of it turned out to be communal. Some pieces were meant to be vividly Today; some to vivify Yesteryear; all became History.
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 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. This icon has a tricolor progression that 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 erstwhile 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 (b. 1942). 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. As he writes he sips a potion grown in Colombia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia (taken strictly black), which helps give him access to the Bald Truth.
He gratefully recognizes two predecessors. Ms. Morgan Cain Grim wrote “Familiar Faces,” a series on Floydians both 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 with his technical expertise (also vital to Angel in Goggles). He celebrates his grandchildren, who didn’t exist when the Wellses bought the ridge-top but who often helped him appreciate another dimension of the county–as seen from a few years of age and a few feet off the ground. The author dedicates Floydiana to the late Gregory Scott Wells, who drew Randall and Marjory to Floyd County. Although they are here without him, without him they would not be here.
NEEDS A ONCE-OVER
In 2012 the Jacksonville Center for the Arts sponsored Portrait of Floyd, Virginia. Glen McClure of Norfolk took seventy-four black-and-white photographs of residents, mainly downtown, many of the photos then included in a booklet and exhibited in the gallery. This album of six-dozen-plus residents underlines the diversity of the indefinite “Floyd,” of both its individuals and groups. Just consider the retirees–each deserves an autobiography in Floydiana. (Betty “Sunny” Bernardine, born in 1926, records memories of her childhood in Illinois, Appendix 2.)
One clerk at the Rt. 8 Dollar store speaks with a Long Island accent and lives in Hillsville, about 45 minutes away. At the Rt. 221 Dollar, a 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.” One of her denominational sisters steered out of a parking lot with her right hand as she held a cell phone to her net-cap. 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 osteopath who sings, paints, plays the violin, and runs the Barter Clinic. 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. But over the decades he painted his own venerable portrait.
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. Because the couple had no children–youngsters at that time were part of the labor force–James worked at their mercantile store. He also attended Oxford Academy in town and later worked at other stores in the area.
The seen defines the seer. O word felicitous! For your author apprehends the Bald Truth! “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18).
Granted, every person sees a different Floyd County. Little Margie Keith as she watches her father butcher hogs; a farmer watching with satisfaction as his tractor turns noise and grass to hay; a former soldier returning or settling; a tourist descending from the Parkway passing a sample yurt, then the ugly-rusty relic of a water tower; an old-timer pulling turnips at dusk before they freeze; a driver zipping across one branch or another 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 at Anahata Community.
If you begin at The Stoplight and drive northward on Rt. 221, then make four left-turns,and don’t mind dust or mud on the vehicle, you will come to Anahata. (A place not to be confused with the secluded road Ananda Way, another borrowing from Sanskrit.) Centered in a handsome lodge built on a hillside, it has a large kitchen in which hangs this sign: “Observation without evaluation is the highest form of intelligence. J. Krishnamurti.” This corollary was asserted by Napoleon Hill, a motivational writer: “Another weakness found in altogether too many people is the habit of measuring everything, and everyone, by their own impressions and beliefs” (Think and Grow Rich, 1937.) But the very singling-out of a phenomenon from the blur of background–in this chapter and in all of Floydiana–constitutes a judgment. “Such-and-such is worth noticing, such-and-such is significant.”
You might think of this series called “Glimpses” as Floyd County’s “Metropolitan Diary”–a feature of the New York Times–except that the vignettes are selected and written by one person rather than chosen from submissions. Codex Floydiana itself is a montage. Although graced by other writers in the community, it was produced by someone who is gregarious and yet monastic; curious yet opinionated; wealthy in relatives and friends; socially and politically liberal. He is intellectual enough to understand fungible after three trips to the dictionary–and enough even to create words that would impress Webster. His can make fine ethical distinctions: female boxing, No; female wrestling, Yes. Traveled in the extreme, he is devoutly secular–free-ranging characteristics that shape his ebook Angel in Goggles: Earthly Scriptures (Amazon.com).
All this plus a blend of intelligence and judgement afforded by his bejeweled, mystical monocle! Read and grow rich!