Outside the West End Market on Rt. 221, I saw an elderly woman make her way very slowly from car to cashier. Following her with my credit card, I noted that her car overflowed with a jumble of clothing, handlebars, and a support- boot. Dare I talk with her? My duty as author of Floydiana. With a smile she reported having just received a pacemaker and yet having just helped a sick friend unload some of her household goods and give them away. Touched, I thought of helping her back to her mobile second-hand-shop, but I had to move my vehicle from the pump and be content to worry about her. A couple of weeks later, in the Fitness Center, I spoke to two other African Americans who immediately recognized her. Does anyone knock on her door and bring her some food? “Oh, no,” they laughed, “she’s the one who does the helping.” I said I’d ask her to put me on her list. My own list follows of vivid glimpses of people, ceremonies, beliefs, and wheels.Up the hill I stopped at Green Label Organic, a business that sells cotton T-shirts and tops by retail and ‘Net. George Lipson, who had drawn the image of a pair of boots to decorated shirts, had been tickled to learn that Vincent Van Gogh had drawn “Old Boots” (a work I had recently admired in Amsterdam). I left-lent a book of Vincent’s art and proceeded across town to the recycling area, where whom should I see but Rain Lipson. She eyed my plastic bag of shredded paper and soon commandeered it for her worm bed. Then she relieved me of newspaper (minus the shiny pages) in order to insulate her garden path from weeds. How ’bout those brown-paper shopping bags with handles? Gone for garbage. By the time I noticed my egg carton, it was being handed over for her friends. Never had I recycled recyclables.
Across Locust and ‘way down the hill, stands the Floyd Pharmacy, where a crowd stands in wait for prescriptions. One day, by chance, I was sitting in the car, where I watched an elderly man who sat outside on a bench. Dark tan of skin, solemn of expression, he wore a black fedora and a long-sleeved white shirt; over it his off-white beard spilled and his suspenders rounded. Slowly his hand lifted a cigarette to his lips. Then then he rose, grasped his cane, made his way to the trash, and navigated to the passenger side of a big, dark sedan. In the spirit of inquiry I got out to check the license plate without actually putting my nose on it and read “Franklin County” (adjacent to Floyd) and a vanity headline “C BOONE.”
The nearby Post Office–like a village well, is the place to go for necessity and society. One person, enjoying a slow line, said that her husband in the parking lot “will think I mailed myself.” A nearby gent added, “My dog may have driven away.” Once as I talked to an acquaintance I accidentally backed into a fellow. “Sorry,” I said, “I can’t dance now.” “I can’t dance period,” he chuckled, glancing at his cane.
Once in the lobby, a woman bent over a large carton and tried to wrap an invisible object in crinkling paper. Two little girls each held a door for customers arriving and departing. I recognized one of them, Lotus, as a student I had guest-taught at Blue Mountain School. I wondered what was up—or, rather, in. “Do you sell things over the Internet?“ No,” the woman explained patiently, her head almost in the box, at times looking up to glance at the children. “At craft shows up and down the East Coast. This was bought by someone north of Pittsburgh and we’re sending it somewhere near Asheville.”Soon afterward I met Tamra formally, learned the identity of the invisible object—a wooden bowl—and the name of her husband–Shanti Yard. We were all at a solstice gathering held Mr. Ed Gralla and Ms. Randye Schwartz—like the senior Yards, members of the Hippy Nobility. We reached their farmhouse by turning off Daniels Run onto Level Bottom Rd. in the northeast part of the county, then driving farther and farther from pavement, then turning onto a private dirt-road and poking along until Marjory wondered if we should to turn back, then finally climbing a rise and beholding a farmhouse with its surrounding structures and equipment designed for self-sufficiency. (Had we hiked past the picnic tables and over the mountain, we could have visited Fred and Ann on Goose Creek Run.)
Our ticket to the celebration was Daughter Katie Wells. As she danced and danced, a bonfire glowed on dozens of faces, her celestial raiment flowed, and her partner Chris drummed to recorded music (and perhaps “didged,” or played the didgeridoo). Their future child rode inside a voluminous, decorated belly, where he enjoyed a unique perspective on his mother’s MFA in Dance Choreography.
A couple of weeks later, Chris and Katie and her parents threw a baby shower on their little farm in Copper Hill:
Numerous children played for hours with no whining (thanks in part to a large trampoline), babies were passed around and watched by something like an extended family, volleyball games went on and on, sixty-five well-fed people danced in a circle after some kind of hand-slapping ritual, and parents’ friends mingled somewhat tentatively with the younger set. Ellie Roe, a former grade-school teacher, made paper gardening-hats for some delighted and newly-decorated children. Chris set up his electronic-drum set in the field, and again a bonfire.
Another celebration was more traditional. On the evening of July 4th we picnicked with members of Zion Lutheran Church at the minister’s house. As I was conversing, I looked over a shoulder and saw a bright, red roundness shining among the leaves. Could it be The Stoplight? Sure enough, the minister’s husband declared. So I now spotted it from Oak Hill Drive, near Floyd Elementary School–from the southeast, unlike our view from the southwest. So the two viewpoints lay on an east-west line, and with a transit we could have determined the position of the multicolored landmark by triangulation.
Fireworks began, well, with a bang, over at the high school field with its invisible crowd. Paying close attention, I identified this sequence: 1. the thump of the ejection, 2. the out-flowering of light, 3. the boom of the explosion, 4. the echo from behind us from the trees of downtown Floyd (a five-second surf-like, restrained roar, mystical), and 5., sometimes, almost synchronous with the echo–the crackle of the powder-fountain. This whole local and national spectacle was abetted by the fact that the storm had hit Floyd-town the night before and moved on.
Floyd County has what might be called a substratum or core of residents that are Christians to one degree or another. Most seem to belong to official denominations that range widely in beliefs and styles. At one pole is Bible-lite—which emphasizes social responsibility and de-emphasizes the challenge of reaching heaven, a goal achieved by repenting for one’s sins and believing in Jesus as savior. It tries to ignore the New Testament’s many and fiery threats of hell as if they are relatives who spit on the carpet. The other pole I refrain from exploring because I have only superficial familiarity with it, no expertise. Also I have sufficient respect for the rural Appalachian culture to let it be. Signs of devotion in the county:
* At Citizens (the telephone cooperative), the TV was tuned to the Christian Broadcasting Network.
* “God Bless America,” exclaims the pedestal of a monument in the imperative subjunctive. Dedicated to soldiers, it stands along Rt. 221 S near a sort of cannon-gun that Ms. Catherine Pauley says she used to climb on at picnics.
* I asked my young friend at Slaughters’ Grocery what she’d be doing of interest this summer. “Teaching in a Bible camp.” This institution seems prominent in the lives of Floyd’s young people. At my own YMCA camp in Wisconsin, the C was pretty much a token, although we did sing “Swing low, sweet chariot” and “The preacher went down to the cellar to pray.”
As always in religion there are strange complications, contradictions, and exceptions. One man was accused of trying to burn down the Check Country Store–using bible pages as tinder. Apparently he ripped them out, stuffed them between the front door and its latch, and set them on fire with a lighter. (“Arson Trial,” Floyd Press, 25 Sept. 2014, p. 1+.)
As for the earth’s resources and health, there a continuum of belief. Those at one end know the world will end theologically, and those at the other fear it will end environmentally. (“Why not both?” asked a minister with an ironic twinkle in her eye.) One issue of the Floyd Press printed a report on how the 2014 Farm Bill reflects the impact of climate change on agriculture. The document took the same column-inches often filled by our anti-EPA congressman’s view of things. The unattributed article may have been submitted by the National Resources Conservation Service (an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture). Unlike the congressman’s reports, it called the head of the Executive Branch “The President” rather than “Obama.”Moving from field to road, at least in part, here are more vehicular sightings:
One August day, traffic on W. Main Street stopped and I looked uphill to The Stoplight. A farm tractor briefly appeared from the left as it made a left turn and disappeared. Then another tractor. Then another, which pulled a trailer full of young people. I turned off the engine: the annual Tractor Parade. It featured more trailers, a farmer under a yellow parasol, an occasional American flag, a Conestoga wagon…. In true Floyd style, Marjory and I enjoyed not only the ritual but the chance to converse with acquaintances who joined us from the sidewalk.
Once when The Stoplight turned green, the cab of a tractor-trailer that pointed uphill on Hwy. 221 began rocking left and right until the driver wrestled it under control and dragged forward. Another time I was ambling along the sidewalk from the opposite direction when the cab of an Averitt tractor-trailer rounded the corner from N. Locust and lunged right toward me and Farmers’ Supply. I hopped to safety between wheelbarrows and watched the massive machine turn handily up E. Main as it was wont to do–before it rounded the block and returned on S. Locust to nestle on the side of Farmers’ Supply for unloading.
Another time near Black Water Loft, his surveillance outpost, Randall heard several blasts of a horn sounded angry rather rather than functional. A car coming from the corner pulled into a parking place across the street, whereupon another car passed it and turned right into a parking area. Out of that car stormed a woman, who caused the teenage girl to reconsider, for she pulled away as the woman shook her fist and yelled “Coward!”
Called “Safety Sam” by his children, Randall spied a bunch of young people riding backwards in the bed of a pickup as the vehicle drove up and down Rt. 221 North. Two sat in wooden chairs and one in an armchair, all three laughing until they disappeared onto County Rd. 642 across from the Check Country Store. “Isn’t that illegal in South Carolina”? I asked Marjory. “Probably here, too,” she allowed. I expressed disapproved that such risky foolery was going on without me.