Train through Glen Ellyn, 1950

This one-minute clip was copied from an original reel of Kodak film. The movie was taken in the summer of 1950 by Dudley E. Wells (b. 1914) from a Union Pacific streamliner, City of Portland. First segment: the train itself and its crossing of the Mississippi River; second, rolling through Glen Ellyn, Illinois (hometown of R. Wells, b. 1942, who was aboard); third, arriving in Chicago. At this time the Korean War had just started. A note on the train’s British-like use of the left side: the Union Pacific used the tracks of the Chicago & North Western Railway, one “known for running ‘left hand main’ on double track mainlines due to the original placement of stations on the Chicago-bound side.” Wikipedia, Chicago_and_North_Western_Transportation_Company. Accessed 2014.

Samuel Hope Wells playing the .... Lamp by Susan Icove.

Poems

To Julien Vasaune on his Third Birthday
               April 2, 2013

Julien woke and wailed, lost
In darkness. Grandpa carried fear
Outside to calming sunlight crossed
Through space to convex lunar mirror.

Toucan with its puppet beak
Tried to grab him by the arm,
Then to give his neck a tweak,
But Grandpa said, “Don’t do him harm!”

“Take the end off!” Beaded string,
Tight-plugged, of patience little trace.
Refused, he gave an angry swing
And whacked his brother in the face.

Toddler loves his “pennies” —fakes
From Mommy’s daddy’s dad, now missed,
Coins for games. He guesses, takes
The silver out of Grandpa’s fist.

What’s sticking out of Julien’s ear?
“I hope that penny didn’t hurt!
And look down by your button—queer—
Another pokes out from your shirt!”

He laughed and took a coin and stuck
It in the mouth of back-flip dog,
Then took it out and, shades of Puck,
Replaced it with a leapless frog.

“Say ‘Go,’”—he did, and off it rolled
The Grandpabarrow—gravel, grass.

Julien knew the sides to hold,
Heard the leafy footsteps pass.
Goldenrod would brush his hair
As facing backward up the lane

He rode the wheel until where
The fence said “Stop.” Too plain:
The cows were nowhere. “Want to climb
Back out?” Why, sure, and then he spots

The stowaways, the ants, no time
To flee the thumb that makes them blots.
Wait to see a leaf down glide.
He doesn’t catch it, autumn’s clock.

So let’s trundle on another ride:
“Whacha see up there?” “Big rock.”
“That’s so big it’s called a boulder.”
Grandpa couldn’t add “Erratic,

Source unknown and nothing older,
Kept for you in nature’s attic.”
A stop unscheduled: “Look for berries!”

In weedy brown he spies a bunch.
Grandpa comes back with the fairies’
Or the birdies’ orange lunch.
“A moon!” Same finger-pointed words

His dad-borne toddler-mom had said.
The sky was empty save for birds.
Oh, Gigi’s crescent nailed to shed!

 

For Samuel Hope Wells

August 2015

Grandpa sits behind the wheel
Car in shady trees;
Baby nods in strap-in seat
Sleeping in the breeze.

Boy takes breaths without a sound,
Rain-like chirping all around.

Corkscrew moths flit to and fro
Swish goes Bessie’s tail;
Birdy scissors ‘cross the road
Butterfly’s a-sail.

Boy takes breaths without a sound,
Rain-like cheeping all around.

Buzz goes bug, already gone—
Speed, it knows, makes sense;
Weeds lift sunny yellow blooms
Birdy takes the fence.

Boy takes breaths without a sound,
Rain-like cheeping all around.

 

Hansel & Gretel

“Fourteen angels watch”?
Don’t be tricked by Humperdinck’s
Phony euphony.

map of England

A Child Evacuee Becomes an Unknown Casualty of World War II

Interviewee: Norah Mitchell, born Cahill (CAH-hill), Dec. 12, 1931, Guildford, Surrey, England. Died May 2016, Floyd, VA, USA.
Father: Joseph Robert Cahill. Mother: Florence Ellen (Smith)
Interview: conducted December 26, 2014, in Floyd, Virginia
Interviewer and editor: Randall A. Wells, b. 1942. Retired Professor of English & Speech, Coastal Carolina University. Former Director of the Horry County (SC) Oral History Project

Italicized parts added by Norah to indicate memories evoked by reading the original interview.

I was raised in London. My earliest memories— my father would bring piecework home and the children and my mother would sit around the table threading nuts and bolts and screws, and we would do it together [illustrates with stretched-out arms]. Another: going to a Shirley Temple movie. Strangely enough, I can remember the address: 16 Bayham St., Camden Town, London [a borough that forms part of Inner London]. Maybe I can remember because my family was together. I had one brother and a sister at that time.

In September, 1939, England was preparing for war. I remember barrage balloons—great silvery, gas-filled balloons that they would float up to keep aircraft from coming down. [Sometimes called “blimps,” they were tethered with metal cables.] Also there were searchlights that would come on for practice [motions]. The lights would sweep across the sky and also bounce off the balloons. One night my mother sent me down to the bakery to get a loaf of bread, and it was after dark, I will always remember it was Hovis brown bread. When I was going, it was the first time that they had decided to test the air raid sirens. I had no idea what it was. I screamed and screamed and ran home terrified and my Mum explained what was happening. Continue reading

Prologue: Floydiana–What, How, Why, Who.

 
 

floydada4

Floydiana does not refer to a place–unlike Michiana, a seven-county region of southwest Michigan and northern Indiana. Or unlike Floydada, the name of a community in Texas. Instead it refers to a collection–like Shakespeareana, which means a group of materials by and about the playwright. Or Virginiana–the collection in libraries. Although not made of flippable paper, it’s a book, like Virginiana: A Visitors’ Guide to Virginia History & Other Stuff, by Carolyn and Charles Bruce (Virginia Beach: Hen a’ Peckin’ Press, 2005). Pronounced Floydee-Anna rather than Floy-Diana, it records stories, people, places, landscapes, ways, and even animals that characterize the improbable Land of Floyd County, Virginia. 

It does not (as a friend suggested) capture the Virginian adventures of an Indiana Jones, although the author does wear a hat to protect his generous scalp. Another friend mis-remembered the title as Floydorama. As for Floydlandia, no such debt to Sibelius. Nor does this enterprise have anything to do with Floy Diane, who grew up in the Lowcountry of South Carolina; or to Floydioli, a hand-made vegetarian stuffed pasta. Instead, the book continues the author’s earlier inclination to write about local South Carolina, where he also directed the Horry County Oral History Project, a long-term undertaking that resulted in archived video- and audiotapes, transcriptions, and two books. (Documents of the project are held at Coastal Carolina University.)

More immediately, Floydiana grows out of a column in the Floyd Press. When it failed to maintain its inches, the writer bundled it up and set it on the doorstep of WordPress, where it thrived. Baby Blog, however, climbed out of its cradle and became an electronic book like the Randall’s Angel in Goggles: Earthly Scriptures (Amazon.com). In doing so Floydiana defied WordPress, a rather miraculous platform for posts. These are chronological, extemporaneous, brief, and relatively ephemeral, although recoverable. To create a book, Floydiana commandeered WP’s ability to revise and re-order material as well as to insert photographs. In doing so it aimed for a document that was thematic, expansive, purposefully sequenced, much-revised, and relatively permanent. The order of its chapters was determined by an algorithm that blended the DaVinci Code with Boyle’s Law. So one chapter follows another like ontogeny recapitulates philately. Many a cross-reference gives extra cohesion.

A word of acknowledgment: the two methods, blog-post and book-chapter, say nothing about quality, for a blog-banana can taste as good as a book-apple. 

Floydiana was compiled from the beginning of 2013 through the last day of June 2017. It turned out to be generously communal in that twenty-five other writers contributed whole or partial chapters. Many others shared stories or brief quotations. Like the wagons that hauled grain to its now-defunct watermills, Floyd County offers an axle-busting load of grist to a writer. The fields of Floyd produce a mixture of the congenial, beautiful, diverse, disturbing, fascinating, and occasionally dangerous.

The county, located on the Blue Ridge Plateau in the southwest part of the state, 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. 

RW and Julien on Goose Creek

Grandpa and Julien traverse Goose Creek. Image by Fred First.

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 State Route 8 (which runs 55 miles from the North Carolina line to U.S. Route 11 in Christiansburg, VA); and U.S. Highway 221 (which runs from Florida to Lynchburg, VA). The Stoplight’s tricolor progression can be spotted across Dodd Creek valley from the Wellses’ retirement house, built on a ridge unlike traditional and practical farm houses, which sought the valley.

Although the county has many a Hispanic resident and a few African Americans, most are white. Those are a mixture of Appalachian-stock families, people of hippy heritage that go back to the 1970s, other residents who are countercultural to one degree or another, artisans, retirees–whoever moved here for the land, weather, and eclectic atmosphere. 

As for employment, about two-thirds of the workforce–aside from those who are home-based–commutes to somewhere else. Many ply the Internet, a major compensation for the loss of manufacturing jobs. For example a veterinarian from Kentucky 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 Conway, South Carolina, newspaper that became the nucleus for Along the Waccamaw: A Yankee Discovers a Home by the River (Algonquin 1990). He has a passion for rendering life with ink, as evidenced by the journal he has maintained, by pen and then pixel, since 1960, when it was assigned his last semester of high school. So fervent is he about visual compositions, as well, that he was diagnosed with L.A.D. (“Looka Dat!”) and prescribed a cell-phone camera.

Although raised as a white Midwestern suburbanite Christian Republican, he has retained only the complexion. He had a brief medical career (one night as Doctor Gibbs in Our Town); then he attended the first of his five colleges, postponing his sophomore year to travel around the world with friend Tom. 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 place where Randall and Marjory spent a third of a century and raised two children.  

The author salutes the many contributors to Floydiana. He also recognizes two precedents for the book. Familiar Faces was an accomplishment of Ms. Morgan Cain’s. A series of more than sixty interviews with Floydians both home-grown and transplanted, it was printed in the Floyd Press, each with a photograph, before she graduated from Floyd High School in 2005. The audiotapes will be digitized and deposited in the Old Church Gallery.

“The Road Less Traveled” ran biweekly in the Floyd Press from 2004 until 2011. In this column Fred First celebrated the county’s natural resources and, backed by research, cast a chilly eye on threats to the health of Mother Earth. Fred has also 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, Fragments from Floyd.” Floydiana is heavily and happily indebted to Fred for his technical expertise as well as to Randall’s other friends and his family. 

The author dedicates Floydiana to the late Gregory Scott Wells, his brother, who along with Greg’s wife drew Randall and Marjory to Floyd County. Although we are here without him, without him we would not be here.