Outside the West End Market on Rt. 221, an elderly African American woman made her way very slowly from car to cashier. Following her inside 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? 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 four-wheeled second-hand-shop, but I had to move my vehicle from the pump. Later, in the Fitness Center, I spoke to two other African Americans who immediately recognized Ms Dorch. Does anyone knock on her door and bring her some food? “Oh, no,” they laughed, “she’s the one who does the helping.”
The great water-wheel of Floydiana Mill continues to transform grist to glimpses–wagonloads of it from the abundant fields of the county.And forests. The Cundiff Acreage between New Haven Rd. SE, Shooting Creek Rd. SE, and the Parkway holds a red oak that seems to have sprung from an acorn 350-450 years ago. Going back centuries from 2017: in 1767, John Milton sealed a contract for the publication of Paradise Lost; in 1567, the New Testament of the Geneva Bible, a translation into English, was published in Geneva, Switzerland (Wikipedia). This tree probably avoided the saw because it stood on, perhaps even marked, the border between two properties:
A few miles townward from the Cundiffs’–via Shooting Creek and Franklin PIke–stands Celebration Hall, a multi-use space constructed by and near Wall Residences. The audience was enchanted by a performance by the Washington (D.C.) Toho Koto Society (a concert sponsored by Virginia’s Blue Ridge Music Festival). When we learned that the favored material for the koto is paulownia wood, Fred told me that Floyd County cuts some of those trees and sends most of it to Japan. Added this formed physical therapist: “I had a patient who said he’d been on the Parkway cutting ‘baloney wood.'”
On the way back from Celebration Hall on Franklin Pike, I drew near the stop sign at 220 N, where two flatbed trucks had halted. The one just in front of me, its amber lights blinking. held a smallish piece of heavy equipment. The one in front of this combo held an old school bus, its front tilted up near the cab. Maybe two-thirds the size of a present-day version, its roof was scabby with rust, and its main rear window was adorned by two smaller, rounded-triangular corner panes. I wanted this big yellow toy for my back yard and grandchildren. I followed it to The Stoplight, trying to catch another glimpse of its left side, but the first truck drove through the green light and the second pushed through the red. When I started downhill the highway was somehow bus-less.
Down the hill is 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, was 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 her garbage. By the time I noticed my egg carton, it was on the way to her friends. Never had I recycled recyclables.
Back to The Stoplight, a frequent occurrence. Once as my car’s hood waited uphill on E. Main (about opposite Galley OneEleven), the car in front enjoined me to “Pray.” I thought of turning off the engine, folding hands and closing eyes, but feared pagan horns. Another time, at night, I watched three silhouettes cross from S. Locust, (Farmers’ Supply to Courthouse) each with a string-instrument case in hand–a Floydian take on the cover of Abbey Road. From the opposite slope, late afternoon in late autumn, I watched as two young women crossed from Courthouse to Farmers’: tall and slim, disappearing too quickly, they wore long, Old Time dresses, each of a single, shiny color, the first somewhat dark, the second Virgin Mary blue.
At the Floyd Pharmacy, a crowd usually 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.” Once, inside the pharmacy the likable clerk asked me to re-slide my credit card: “You’re quicker than I am.” “Nicer, too,” I replied in a neutral tone. Barely taken aback: “You’re probably right–doesn’t take much.” Laughter, the best medicine.
The neighborhood of the pharmacy and Post Office has its own mascot: a white and beige dog that wanders around perennially like the bony-jointed water buffaloes I once saw wandering the streetcars of Calcutta.
The Post Office–like a village well, is the place to go for necessity and society. I opened the first door for a woman who was walking with more determination than ease after parking in the handicapped spot: “I’ll get the next one,” she declared–“Fifty-fifty.” One person, enjoying rather than enduring 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 in the queue. “Sorry,” I said, “I can’t dance now.” “I can’t dance period,” he chuckled, looking at his cane. Another time I reported to Wanda that I had recently come in wearing my hoodie: “I felt as if I should rob someone, but I’m afraid of guns.” Another customer, Katherine Chantal, laughed: “Get a sword!” Another time I introduced myself and asked a customer if she had a business that involved sending out all those 8″ X 10″ envelopes. She pleasantly explained that they advertised a retreat for teenagers, the stakes of the tent to be pounded into the YogaFest farmland.
Once in the lobby, a woman bent over a large carton and tried to wrap an invisible object in crinkling paper while 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.”
After I struggled to parallel park in front of the Country Store, I greeted a couple sitting on a bench: “Your ticket, please, for the parking show.” Despite their cane-supported age, they didn’t let a half-second pass before laughing. Across the street I picked up a crumpled piece of light green paper that had these names written in wide blue letters: Gage, Lily, Jack, Mason [initial], Mason [initial], Paxton, Emma, Mirrelise, Bunny, Hailey, Charlie, Devin, Raylan, Skylyn, Jemma, Lydia, Kolden, Branan, Iver, Aspen, Emily, Madison, Tristian, Danny, Luke, Payson, Tyson, Emily [initial], Elizabeth, Banner. Paper dropped by accident, names recorded for posterity.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. Our ticket to the celebration was Daughter Katie Wells. As she whirled and 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:
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 avoiding hell, a concept regarded like a relative who spits tobacco juice on the carpet. At the other is Full Gospel, which requires little explanation. A few signs of religion among many:
*At Citizens (the telephone cooperative), the TV was tuned to the Christian Broadcasting Network.
* “God Bless America,” exclaims the pedestal of a monument dedicated 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 acquaintance at Slaughters’ Grocery what she’d be doing 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 merely token– although we did sing “Swing low, sweet chariot” and “The preacher went down to the cellar to pray.”
* “It was definitely a God thing,” averred one person about a welcome change of jobs.
* A church marquee gave a weather report: “There is no cool day in hell.”
* At a Christmas concert at the high school, those in attendance rose to sing a “O Come All Ye Faithful” or some other hymn.
* One charming family declined to take part in worldly things on Saturdays, which they computed as the true Sabbath. At one point, however, they were reconsidering their decision after exploring the possibility of lunar versus solar calendar (if I remember correctly) Not Seven Day Adventists, who allowed women to dress like men.
* People testify with words on clothing and signs on property. Once I even saw a “Jesus Christ” license plate with its bottom edge attached to the top edge of another one, “Don’t tread on me.” Bewildered by the juxtaposition, I consulted the HaruSpex, which could only blink its jewels erratically, so I gave up and tucked it into its hiding-cubby.
As always in religion there are strange complications, contradictions, and exceptions. One man was accused of trying to burn down the Check Country Store–by 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 twinkle in her eye.
In the crowded Maberry Funeral home, the service for a ninety-five-year-old included recordings of a few Gospel songs. Although I generally appreciated their musical quality, the lyrics amounted “Alien in Appalachia.” Yet as bereaved family proceeded down the aisle, the widower, Mr. Bill Coleman, raised his eyebrows in apparent recognition and extended a strong handshake.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 for the annual parade. It displayed a few more trailers, a farmer under a yellow parasol, an occasional American flag, a Conestoga wagon…. Marjory and I enjoyed not only the spectacle but the chance to converse with people 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. Occasionally some kind of specialized truck would thunder past with a design inspired by Dr. Seuss. Once a trio of quasi-military trucks rolled through town: the first bore a strobe warning about wet paint, and the second, as long as a switch engine, carried a second person toward the end–a bearded fellow who, through the open window, resembled the engineer except that he faced backward.
Another time near Black Water Loft (Randall’s surveillance outpost), he heard several blasts of a horn that sounded angry rather rather than functional. A car coming from the Stoplight corner drew into a parking place across the street, whereupon another car passed it and turned rightward into a parking area. Out of that second vehicle stormed a woman who caused the first driver, a teenage girl, to reconsider coexistence, for she pulled away as the grownup shook her fist and yelled “Coward!”
A bunch of young people rode backwards in the bed of a pickup as the vehicle drove on 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 foolishness was going on without me.