20. Once Upons.

One day Marjory and I entered the Young Life 5K race, organized by Morgan Cain Grim, Floyd County’s own entry in the Super Person contest. Bang! And the runners disappeared with the smoke of the gun leaving the Wellses to walk uphill, chat downhill, and wave at bystanders. More hill-huffs and we found ourselves grateful for a trio of teens who strolled just ahead of us. To the lonely and bored monitors, we apologized, and we tried to ignore the trailing ambulance. On the last rise we passed Gallery OneEleven, then, turning right at The Stoplight, reached the finish line at Lineberry Memorial Park. Soon the announcement was made: I had won!*

5K race 60 and up

    *The record book probably has an asterisk that notes my status as the only male in my age group.

These other brief stories about Floyd County tell of mistaken vegetables, francophone cyclotourists, a lost goat, a long-bobbing bottle, a back-guarding sock-knitter, and a few more of the author’s own “Once-s.”


“Hi, we’re from Plenty! Today we have lots of fresh vegetables, tomatoes, lettuce, some string beans, and lots of other stuff. We also have some bakery goods. I think a coffee cake and a loaf of bread. Do you have a dog? We can give you some dry dog food, too, if you need it.” I said this in one continuous blurt in my most agreeable fashion. This was the new “client” on our route, distributing donated produce to people in need. I placed a large grocery bag brimming with produce in the hands of the young woman at the beat-up old trailer door.

“I wasn’t expecting anyone. I just moved in. Who-all are you?”

“Aren’t you Betty ____?”

“Oh, no. She lives at the end of the gravel.”

“I’m sorry. I thought you were our new stop. We deliver some groceries every week to people who have signed up at Plenty!”

“Do you want this back?”

At this point, of course, I should have said, “No, welcome to Floyd.” But I am not a fast thinker in social situations. She handed the bag back to me reluctantly. I took it down to the end of the gravel and left it on the doorstep of Betty _____, who wasn’t home. At the end of the route, returning to Plenty!, I mentioned the encounter to Karen Day. She, much wiser than me, immediately put together a brimming bag of groceries and suggested, “Why don’t you go back out there. This will make her feel welcome, and leave one of our cards.” 

I took the bag back to the trailer, but no one would answer the door, even though I think someone was there….

Laurel Brooke (who shares Chapter 24 with Randall):

My family lives smack in the middle of the town of Floyd, right across from Hardee’s, just down the street from the only stoplight. Sometime in May of 2013 I was puttering around the house when I received a phone call from my Mom (Jennifer) telling me to expect two French-Canadian bikers in a couple minutes. She said they would be setting up camp in our yard, and I should help them pick out the best spot for their tent. I was a little confused at first. “Bikers” as in the motorcycle kind? Mom clarified by telling me they were bicyclists from Québec. I was a little taken aback; after all how often do you have foreign visitors camp in your yard? I hung up and promptly went outside to await our campers.

Josee and Marilaine loaded with gear.

Josée Deslandes and Marilaine Savard loaded with gear.

They came riding down the side road, their bikes making that soft expensive ticking sound. I don’t know what I was expecting in particular. They both had on athletic biking gear, with water bottles and packs secured to the back of their bikes. Quite honestly they looked like your average pro-bikers that could be from anywhere. I greeted them and we all had a round of introductions. Marilaine (Mary for short) and Josée (Jo) were both quite fluent in English although with heavy accents. After naming ourselves, I pointed out the spot that might be best for their digs. They set up camp and we gave them a small tour of our house and told them to help themselves to anything they needed for the night.

My sister and I enjoyed a game of Frisbee with Mary, the more outgoing of the two. She had us say a word in French every time we passed it to one another. I already knew some of the basics of the language but I enjoyed the opportunity to work on my woefully poor accent. They would ask, “What is in a biscuit?” “What are grits made out of?” “What does ‘sibling’ mean?” They had a genuine interest in things that were not commonplace to them, and it was fun to describe something routine with fresh imagination. Try to describe the word “cool,” as in “We saw this new movie and it was cool!”

Mary and Jo were excited to go to the Friday Night Jamboree to hear traditional music and mix with the locals. When they came back that night they were all flushed from clogging. In the morning they were up early and went to the Farmer’s Market; afterwards, they and my Mom looked over a map and consulted about what the best route to the Blue Ridge Parkway would be. Their destination for the day was Roanoke and before they headed off we exchanged addresses and promised to write each other.

In June we received a three-page letter from Marilaine written completely in French. It was wonderful once we got around to having somebody help us out on translating it. Here is my favorite snippet: “I must first say that Floyd and you have been our most memorable moment of our trip in cycling.” Out of all the towns they saw and cities they rode through, our little town was the most memorable.

Je dois tout d’abord vous dire que Floyd et vous avez été notre moment le plus mémorable de tout nôtre voyage en cyclotourisme!

Lisa Carina Watersnake:

Lisa is the agister for a small herd of goats off Alum Ridge Rd. NW in Willis. She cares for the animals and distributes a monthly share of dairy to investors who have bought into the herd.

Four days after our first goat kid was born for the spring kidding season in April, the doeling was nowhere to be found. [Doe-ling, a female goat of less than one year old.] The day before, I had cautiously let her mother and her out, checking on them regularly, and all had gone well. So I let them out the next day just before I left for our animal-feed pick up in Floyd. I reminded my thirteen-year-old son to keep an ear out while I was gone. When I returned an hour and a half later, I went out into the pasture to check on mama and offspring. Although everyone in our herd was peaceful, and I could find the mother—where was the newborn?

I immediately walked the roughly two and a half acres of the fenced pasture area to no avail. By nightfall I had checked the entire fenced area four times crying out in imitation of a goat without any luck. I surmised that with such a peaceful and content herd, there must not have been an animal attack. Yet where was she? It is common with goats and cows that the mamas will be content eating all day without concern for their little ones until night falls or their udders get too full and they need relief. After I spoke with three friends with both goat and cow experience, I settled into prayer and faith; all would be as it was to be, and I was doing all I could. 

In order to be around the farm in case the doeling showed up, I kept us home that night instead of attending a friend’s birthday celebration. At nightfall, like clockwork, the new mama began to cry for her kid. I put her on a lead and walked the entire fenced area again with her bleating the whole time to no avail. Then after dark, around 10:00 p.m., I walked the fenced area again while crying out—but nothing. I prayed again and went to bed with a heavy heart yet with surrender and gratitude for what is and what will be.   

The next day I left by 9:30 a.m. to go to work, leaving my son in charge and extra alert for anything unusual. By 11:00 a.m. he telephoned: “She fell down a rabbit hole!”  Indeed, by late morning he had heard the new mama crying loudly, and when he got into the pasture she was frantically pacing around an area with a small hill and lots of brambles. Reaching the spot, he found a sideways hole. The doeling was stuck head first. “I almost couldn’t reach her,” he reported, “and if I couldn’t I would have gotten a shovel and dug her out.” But he got ahold of her back legs and pulled her to daylight. Even after a full twenty-four hours with no food from her mama at four days old, she survived and even thrived as the months passed. Yes, my son did name her “Bunny.” Although most likely the burrow was a groundhog den, the image it brought up of Alice in Wonderland was fun and exciting.

For me the most important grace from all of this experience was the time I spent with my son the evening the animal went missing. I spoke with him about the importance of having faith in the Spirit, gratitude toward It, and surrender to It—no matter what happens. About knowing that we are always held in the Everlasting Arms—that is our birthright, our bedrock, that allows us to have joy and peace always. 

For a zoological collection, please see Chapter 41.

Rev. Linda Motley:wine bottle Blue Dog

On January 1, 2000, on a cold, blustery day at the Outer Banks of North Carolina, June Hall waded into the ocean as far as she could without toppling over. She had held off until high tide to ensure that her endeavor would have the best chance of succeeding.

The evening before, she and her friends had emptied a number of wine bottles as they celebrated not just the arrival of a new year but of a new century and even a new millennium. But how to dispose of those items the next morning? The friends lamented the scarcity of cobalt blue glass on the Outer Banks’ sand. Then June spied an empty “Our Dog Blue”–a signature label of Chateau Morrisette. An idea arose: she would throw the bottle into the ocean in hopes that the action of the waves, the salt water and the sand would break the bottle and polish the pieces so they would eventually land on the OBX beaches as valuable blue gems. 

While she was at it, just for fun, June took a piece of paper and wrote the name, address, phone number and email address of Norah Mitchell, her friend and OBX resident. She rolled up the paper, placed it in the bottle and sealed the top with wax. With her friends cheering her on, June then stepped out into the sea and hurled the bottle as far as she could. Nobody gave it further thought.

Eight months later, Norah received an email from a resident of the Azores, a string of nine islands about 850 miles west of Portugal. He had found the “Dog” on the beach with its wax seal and note intact. Norah was astonished and called all the friends who had been with her that January day. How did that bottle make it 2400 miles to a remote island without breaking and losing the note? The best theory envisions it catching the Gulf Stream and bobbing along until it reached the first land on its path, that Azores beach. Though the bottle did not add to the blue glass shards on OBX beaches, its long ocean journey amazed those who heard of it and gave them a great lesson in world geography, the astonishing power of ocean currents, and the magic of blue beach glass.


On a Thursday evening I went into a downtown boutique to get help on a knitting project. Sitting at the table were an incongruous couple. The woman was approximately my age (about seventy) with very long hair and a fur vest. Her partner, significant other, or maybe son was sitting across the table from her. Dressed like a mountain man with a large, irregular-brimmed hat, he was knitting socks. Not very well, but he was knitting them, and she was doing the same. Sock Night at the Yarn Shop!

As the amiable proprietress was chatting with everyone, the subject of concealed permits came up. The long-haired woman happily announced, “I have your backs.” In gun parlance that means she was carrying a gun (in her purse, specifically). She was bubbling over with news: she had taken the class for a concealed-carry permit and received her first A ever on a test. About the same time, her partner was expounding on the necessity of women to carry guns to protect themselves.

I happen to know a couple of women who have permits to carry and the world is not a safer place as a result. All statistics point out that people who carry guns are more likely to shoot themselves or a loved one by mistake than to protect themselves. So our Yarn Mistress asks Mountain Man, “Do you carry a gun, too?” He arises and pulls up his shirt so that we can see a very large handgun stuck in the back of his waistband. If his pants aren’t so tight the very large gun might drag them down a bit.

I leave early, shaking my head and thinking, “Well, that’s what makes Floyd unique!”

Judy Nolen Hylton:

In 1982, Dave Elliott, twenty-eight, had a casual conversation with Edd and Louis Nolen, sixty-three and sixty-seven. This chat took place more than two decades after the brothers were injured at a portable sawmill (Chapter 15). The older men gave Dave some advice about reaching his property. He had an easement to go through a cow field, but it required opening and closing two gates as well as dodging cow-patties. Why not make a driveway to the side of his property? Since Dave liked the idea, Edd and Louis gave him a right-of-way through their land to build a driveway about a quarter-mile long. They also offered to help him build a cattle-crossing over the creek to make the path. 

The three of them cut the trees from the land where the driveway would be built. They loaded Edd’s big truck by placing the logs up the hill, the truck down the hill, and rolling the logs onto the truck. Then with Edd driving and Louis and Dave as passengers, they took the logs to John Buscher’s portable mill in Willis to have them sawed into beams for the bridge (photo below). Edd and Louis knew what length and how many they would need for the crossing and gate–just from the knowledge they had gained from working with timber.

When the beams were loaded, down the road they came to Dave’s driveway. Edd and Louis started to work by showing him how to construct the cattle-crossing bridge. Dave was impressed as one brother held the nail and the other used the hammer. Then they laid boards on the ground, and with their expertise made a gate for the driveway. That gate lasted for ten years before it was replaced with a metal one. Dave has never forgotten that day–along with the many fond times with the brothers.

Foreground: Louis; middle, Edd. Photo by David Elliott.



“No Backpack.” In the summer of 2003 I spent a day at the second FloydFest, by myself, then drove back to Christiansburg to spend the night with my brother and sister-in-law. Only to realize that I had left my backpack near the shuttle-bus station! In it was my newest journal with fifteen pages already well-inked. I remembered the cause of my amnesia: a distraction when I had rushed up to help someone down the stairs of the bus, then helped her partner by grabbing his cooler. 

My headlights now illuminated about thirty-three miles of hilly roads at dusk. After negotiating the aptly-named Black Ridge Rd., I reached the outskirts of the Fest and begged permission to park for free on the muddy grass. Fighting a headache, I envisioned a vacuum in space where I had left the bag next to a fence. I saw myself tramping up that long pasture to seek the Lost & Found, then imagined the attendant’s words, “No backpack, got a purse.” My FloydFest T-shirt, my leather bag that was so expensive and useful, my glossy yellow raincoat…. 

The bus poked along, along it poked, in the dark. Stopped. Started grudgingly. Halted. I scrambled got off, looked behind a line of future boarders, and spotted the untouched shape with its feather-like bookmark. The only thing different: it was cold.


“What Have You Done?!” Randall took a break from the computer to get rid of a faulty tire. At the dumpster he alley-ooped its dead weight and was just slapping his dirty hands together in satisfaction when—“What have you done?!” His wife, agitated, was making her way out of the car and looking pained. “Have you thrown away the rim with the tire?!” Silence, guilt. Only one thing to do: 

Randall in dumpster

“Are You There?” At the Food Lion I was poking around an aisle with list and basket. One of the employees, a petite woman who always tolerated my friendly quips, walked near me, reached out her hands sideways to a shelf, pulled horizontally, and caused a vertical gap to appear in the eight-or-nine ranks of shelving. Industrial Light & Magic.

Then what should she do but enter! As the gap closed, my mouth opened. Standing by packaged light bulbs I looked around to see if anyone else had witnessed the event. Was there a passageway in the shelves? Did it hide a stone in the floor or wall that could be wrestled off to disclose a lever? Would a fissure emit a blast of cold air? Phantom of the Food Lion?

The impulse arose to follow her–adventure certain, romance optional. But where was she? Scrutinizing the shelves, I perceived that the articulating part was a large end-cap about seven feet high and three-and-a-half feet long, its peg-board sides holding movies, gift cards, and phone cards. I peered into one of the little dark holes: “Are you there?” Silence. Fearing that someone would regard my behavior as troublesome, I walked around to the other side. Nothing. Was she already in a subterranean gondola? But when I looked ‘way down the aisle, there she stood, chatting with another employee. How she got there I didn’t ask, but instead reported my story as merriment echoed between crackers and popcorn.