A Story by: Randall A. Wells
Sipping frustrated coffee, we took a break in Oddfella’s Cantina. My brother had been driving Marjory and me around in search of either land or a house, because we hoped to retire near Christiansburg, where Greg and his wife lived. An hour earlier, near Château Morrisette, he had negotiated a muddy and icy backroad so we could meet a real estate agent and tour a forest of rhododendron that was punctuated by granite boulders (as expensive as it was enchanting). Near Pilot he had turned around at a bridge that was spanned by its own rampaging creek. And on the outskirts of Blacksburg we had watched through the rearview mirror as a beautiful lot receded and a neighborhood dog barked at Our Kind.
“Why don’t you look in the newspaper?” suggested Virginia Neukirch, co-owner of Oddfella’s at the time. So I trotted down Locust Street to get a copy of the Floyd Press at Harvest Moon, a health foods store which was in the building now shared by Blackwater Loft, noteBooks, and Red Rooster Coffee Roaster. In the classifieds, a one-inch ad promised a magnificent view.
On our way home to South Carolina the next day, we turned off Highway 221 onto ruts that were steep, winding, half-frozen, and finally impassable. We had to abandon the car and twist away from the March wind, but our climb earned a vista: hills sloped from various directions into a shallow valley textured by fields, pastures, and forests of pine and hardwood. When we reached the clear-cut knoll, we could make out roofs of downtown Floyd in the east and the low northern horizon of mountains.
We sent a check to Hylton Realty that was hot only in speed. On our new acreage, my brother helped to site a log cabin with stakes and twine. But while the house was under construction, he departed this earth, never again to sketch the barns of Floyd County or hike all the way from town to Christiansburg on Rt. 615. For years, whenever we visited the place, I sadly thought, “Here we are without him.” But as time went on, gravel was trucked in for the road by a genial fellow whose accent was thick as his beard, Storkers Knob annually revealed itself whenever the intervening hardwoods shed their leaves, our property began to look like an arboretum, and our social landscape gradually became adorned with friends. “Without him,” I eventually said, “we would not be here.”
Our story joins the many accounts of “how” and “why” people from all over stop at the lone traffic light—and stay.
“We’d never seen people dance like that”
Becky and Joe Pomponio discovered Floyd through a newspaper article. It was November 2001 and they were toiling in high-pressure, high-level federal jobs in Washington, D.C., to put two children through college. The pair needed some relaxation on the weekends. A story in the Washington Post weekend section led to a getaway in Floyd. The article had described Floyd’s slower pace of life, great mountain music, and beautiful scenery. But the Pomponios believe nothing can really prepare you for Floyd.
“First, there was the Floyd Country Store,” said Becky. “We’d never seen people dance like that and have so much friendly, uninhibited fun! The musicians were also mesmerizing. D.C. is far more buttoned-down.” As they walked outside the store, the Pomponios were fascinated at seeing many members of Floyd’s alternative culture.
“Dreadlocks, tie-dye and bluegrass…we just couldn’t get over the fact that it all seemed to work just fine,” mused Joe. They recall later enjoying a small rock ‘n roll group at the Pine Tavern in Floyd County that weekend.
The next day was a chilly, foggy one as the pair made their way down the Blue Ridge Parkway. They were looking for Château Morrisette, and when the castle-like building emerged from a fog bank, they were awestruck. “This is Floyd?” they asked themselves.
Yet the large, elegant winery was warm inside, packed with happy visitors.
As Becky and Joe returned for long weekends, both soon learned that it is hard to categorize or label Floyd. They loved the area so much that they decided to build a weekend home on top of a mountain in Willis. They retired there at the end of 2008 and divide their time between Floyd and Sarasota, Florida.
“Every day, every hour, the mountains show us a different view, with greenery so bright, it almost seems painted on; graceful white clouds that sink down into the hollows; and heavy, dark storms that race across the skies.” Becky feels that like Floyd, these mountains are ever-changing, but resilient and authentic. “We love all the different styles of music in Floyd, the people from varied backgrounds, and our wonderful surroundings. We’ve never regretted coming here.”
“We weren’t used to seeing pumpkins”
Traveling the length of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Luis and Heather Garcia, along with their two little daughters, were taking an autumn vacation from Miami. “We stumbled onto Floyd,” declares Luis. The place was so inviting that on the way back from Shenandoah they drove around Floyd County looking for property, mainly the area of Alum Ridge Road.
“We weren’t used to seeing pumpkins,” explains Luis. “And we had never been to Appalachia.” He had spent four years in California and thought that Eastern mountains couldn’t be of much interest until he saw all the creeks and the water oozing out of rocks. “We were bit by the Floyd bug.”
As a graphic and web designer, Luis could work independently from home, where he started a greeting-card business. He is one of many Floyd County residents who work via the Internet. This electronic employment has allowed many highly-trained people to live in the area and has partly compensated for empty factories and mills. Indeed, Luis was instrumental in founding this FLOYD VIRGINIA Publication.
“One hour from the ROA Airport”
Ralph Roe was raised on a dairy farm in Upstate New York. According to his wife Ellie, his engineering degree and career in high tech management took him to California, but after retiring he yearned for green rolling hills and countryside—but without the brutal winters of New York! Over the past thirty-four years they had visited Ellie’s sister and seven children, who live near Roanoke. “Our realtor, feeling discouraged after eighty-seven+ drive-bys, sent us three listings in Floyd …even though the town fell outside our ‘one hour from the ROA airport’ criterion. Eureka!”
Both Ralph and Ellie like the sense of connectedness that comes with being involved in the community, so they started with Trails in Floyd and then Partnership for Floyd. “We’re always amazed with the number of talented, energetic, and hard-working people we meet in Floyd!”
With their children and grandchildren living in California, and Ellie’s ninety-three year old mother living in Illinois, every few months they drive from Floyd to take care of her and then fly from Chicago back to California. “Leading a bi-coastal life has its complexities,” acknowledges Ellie, “but rewards us with time for our loved ones, yet time enough to share in the Good Life of Floyd.”
Newcomers to Floyd—retired, employed, full- or part-time, settle on roads named after ancient geology, old places (even an old furnace), and families that rolled here on wagons. This handful of accounts records some of the means and reasons for staying: the written word, land, the landscape, a diverse culture, and kinfolk, and don’t forget… pumpkins.
Luis A Garcia
Proprietor / Graphic Designer
FLOYD VIRGINIA publication
(540) 320 1045 – firstname.lastname@example.org
This story was published in Floyd Magazine Spring/Summer 2011 ~Senior Editor Dee Wallace