-The following first appeared in The Floyd Press on March 23, 2017
Randall Wells considers himself “just one of the characters of Floyd.” When the retired English professor moved here from Myrtle Beach with his wife Marge nine years ago, he was so fascinated by the county and its mix of people that he wrote about it, first in a column for The Floyd Press and then on a blog.
Wells’s writing soon outgrew the blog and became Floydiana, not a place, not an Indiana Jones adventure or homemade pasta, as Wells explains, but a serial e-book that features his writing, guest writing, collaborative writing and interviews related to Floyd. Located on Wells’s webpage “The Bald Truth” (randallawells.com), the book was written primarily from 2013 to 2016 and was revised and edited into 2017. It contains 400 photographs and 50+ chapters that are categorized by themes: Came Here (to Floyd), Stayed Here, Left Here, Footsteps in Floyd, Glimpses, Places, Textures and Tails and Wings.
With the eye of a historian (he is a past director of the Horry County Oral History Project) and in the spirit of a humorist, Wells writes about Floyd as he experiences it in present time. Today, he describes Floydiana as “an appreciation of Floyd County, the people, the places, the landscape and animals. “For some reason animals turned up in the book more than I expected,” he said. “Like the chapter about the cats that were dropped off in our yard and the one about bats that tried to make themselves at home under our roof.”
“There’s a variety of tone and subject. It goes from kind of disgusted (referring to his writings on dangerous driving) to whimsical” continued Wells, who is author of ¾ of the book and editor of its entirety. “Most of the book is in good humor, is appreciative and fun loving, like me!”
Writing about small towns is not new to Wells, who grew up in Chicago and followed his brother (who has since passed away) to Southwest Virginia after raising his family near Myrtle Beach. He’s had several books published. Along the Waccamaw: A Yankee Discovers a Home by the River, published in 1990 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, grew out of a column that Wells penned for the local Conway, South Carolina newspaper. His more recent e-book, Angels in Goggles: Earthly Scriptures can be purchased at Amazon as a Kindle edition for $3.99.
Familiar Floyd people and places figure strongly in Floydiana. Some of the chapters are obviously historical, like Bill Gardner’s account of growing up on a diary farm in “Stayed Here: A Deep Commitment to Community,” and Wells’s interview with Judge James L. Tomkins, which includes an account of Tomkins’s great-grandfather’s life and his Civil War service.
Wells’s chapter “Downtown Floyd at its Best” takes us on a foot stroll through Floyd. “…In the loft I was able to name at least three of the McCutchan sisters, but today I confused the decaf latte with the cappuccino when I distributed them at the Country Store to supplement our lunch. Over sandwiches we watched a gallery of citizens pass by the window. The boys explored the aisles and found that they needed Sky Streaks–balsa airplanes with a red propeller and blue rubber band…”
That chapter is followed by Lucille T. Nolan’s “Downtown Floyd of Yesteryear.” Born in 1922 and raised near Haycock Mountain, Nolan writes, “At various times the downtown had industry–a small flour mill and a sewing factory, along with their dependent eateries. Although the movie theater has new purposes, the town now enjoys a substantial library. Old-time Floyd had at least two kinds of large-purchase businesses: furniture and automobiles. Now the iconic hardware store may be as valuable for tourism as for its countless handy items…”
Nolan’s words are followed by a virtual photographic tour of old Floyd, the result of collaboration between Nolan, her daughter Judy Nolen Hylton and Wells, with images provided by the Floyd Press and the Floyd County Historical Society.
There is also a “Stayed Here” chapter that includes a tour of the Winter Sun building, once home of “The Shirt Factory,” J.Freezer & Son, where Nolan and other family members worked and made friends. “…In the beginning, paychecks came every other Friday; later, every Friday… Declared Lucille, this factory helped a lot of little hungry children, and grownups too.”
Margie Keith “Left Here,” but she came back. “I have great respect for farmers and the work they do to provide our food. I just wasn’t born to be one,” wrote Keith, who gave her account of growing up in Floyd. “… When I was still a small child, we moved to the Cundiff farm in the Topeco Community, where we lived during the Great Depression of the Thirties. The house had no electricity. Light was from kerosene lamps. Wood stoves were used for cooking and heating. Water for drinking, cooking, laundry and bathing was carried up the hill from a spring in the woods. The toilet was down the path…”
Keith, who recently passed away, also wrote about walking two miles to attend the one-room Harmon School, and then 4th grade in what is now School House Fabrics. She left Floyd in 1946 and became a professional secretary to company presidents. She lived in Tennessee and Texas and worked for a time in New York before retiring back to the county in 2000 and briefly running a used book store.
Other Floydiana chapters are historic in that they give a more modern glimpse into what makes Floyd County the mix that it is today. The “Came Here” chapters document the back-to-the-land movement, which brought new settlers and artists to Floyd.
“It was the ‘70s and ’80s when a number of “communities” established their unique selves in Floyd County,” wrote Jayn Avery, a local potter. She described how people of common mind and few resources shared the cost and responsibility of land ownership. “What all of us young people knew was that we had found the place to live an independent, soul-centered, back-to-the-land life.”
Jack Wall, a prominent Floyd business owner and community activist contributed a chapter titled “With All my Possessions on my Back.” In 1973, Wall traveled from Cambridge, Massachusetts to Travianna Farm, first to visit and then to live for a time. Travianna was one of the county’s earliest “alter-native” (term coined by Will Bason) communities. It was started by the late Ruth Bason, who welcomed one and all.
“Being a city boy I had a lot to learn,” wrote Wall. “My skills as a long-time Boy Scout and an outdoors person came in handy. I was not very good with the cow but I could churn the cream to make butter. I was good at bread-making, splitting firewood, making a fire and tending to the chickens…”
Later in the piece, he reports, “That winter of 1974-1975 was an interesting experience. It was somewhat like existing in a survivalist mode.” But Wall also refers to that foundational time as “a wonderful introverted experience not unlike Thoreau at Walden Pond or backpacking in the woods.”
Other Floydiana chapter titles include “Floyd Time vs. Make Time,” and “Came Here: Nii Anang, Everybody Welcomed Me.” “Left Here: The Strong Phillips Family, 1905” was written about a visit from Wells’s childhood friend, the Reverend Harry Strong. It includes an introduction that reads, “In 1958-60, Randall (Floydiana author) walked to high school with Harry Lee Strong and two other friends in a Chicago suburb. Almost fifty years afterward Harry was amazed to learn that his pal had retired to Floyd County; for his ancestors had grown up there and departed in 1905…”
“One of my favorite chapters is about my five-year-old grandson as he explores Dennis and Suzi Ross’s property, handling newts, scrambling over logs, discovering the sound of running water and putting his hand in the cold stream,” said Wells, who has two grown daughters and four grandchildren. He commented that his grandchildren have added a lot to the book. “They bring a different angle of appreciation.”
After four years of working on Floydiana, Wells says he is ready to go back to playing the piano and reading other people’s books. “But it deserves to be published in print.” Wells is exploring that possibility. ______Colleen Redman