It wasn’t unusual back then to knock on a stranger’s door and ask about an adjacent abandoned farmhouse. The families of these older houses had moved into modern brick ranches and would sometimes rent the old farmhouse for $100 a month. That’s how we found the “612 House” [christened after its road number]. The young man who farmed the land we lived on named his horse after our son Joshua. He invited us to church a couple of time and got rid of the rats under the sink (which I only knew were there because I could hear them squealing as they gnawed our potatoes). He let the kids play in the hay barn and get up close to the newborn calves. Because of an eventual divorce, I barely lived in the house that my husband had built off Christiansburg Pike [Rt. 615]. I remember walking up and down the long steep driveway in the snow after doing the nightshift as a B-REAL Ethanol Plant night watchman. It was understood that to live in Floyd I would have to patch a living together and learn to make something for sale or trade, which in my case was jewelry and, later, writing.
By the spring of ‘87 I moved out with the boys, who saw their dad most weekends. To save money, I opted to rent a big Cape Cod farmhouse off Route 8 and take roommates. One of them would eventually become my second husband (the love of my life), Joe Klein, who was newly recruited from the D.C. area to teach at Blue Mountain School, where my sons attended and where I taught creative writing as a parent/teacher.
I have fond memories of the year we lived in the “729 House,” the changing roommates and college-like atmosphere. We were sad when the owners didn’t renew our lease. That summer we lived in a primitive cabin attached to a bus at Zephyr. By fall we moved into the “615 House,” which had great sunsets as well as an apple orchard in the back, and our neighbor landlords, the Grooms, became our friends.
In 1991, a local realtor who was a friend at the time, called me up and said “I found your place.” He was right. It was a cabin on nearly three acres off the Blue Ridge Parkway and within walking distance to Zephyr. The elemental quality of the nearby Parkway mountain-overlooks helped reduce some of my homesickness for the ocean. The boys had their own rooms and there was an organic garden to work. Owning our place – which I frequently refer to as a paradise of privacy – has been one of my best accomplishments, and I’ve lived here now longer than any house in my life, even my childhood home.
In the early days when the back-to-the-land artists were arriving in Floyd, newcomers and old-timers tended to be more segregated, but I think we had more in common than what was initially thought. And it had something to do with sharing an independent spirit as well as providing our basic needs (even our entertainment) in a homegrown way. But it was our kids who best bridged the community through the friendships they formed in school, playing on the same sports teams, dating, and sometimes even marrying each other. I think we’re all better off for it.
I came to Floyd looking to learn the skills to live a more self-sufficient life, and I did. We learned from the locals and from each other (trial and error). In some cases the newcomers may have brought back old traditions that weren’t being practiced anymore, as when my friends and I became interested in herbs and started wild-crafting local plants for medicinal remedies. Today, along with the garden, we have chickens and a hand-pump for easy well-water access. My husband keeps the shed filled with firewood and the freezer stocked with venison, which is my idea of being rich.
People are still coming to Floyd for the same and for different reasons. I joked the other day to a friend that the Floyd newcomers are old-timers now, as we are getting on in age. I think it was Catherine Pauley, a local Mountain Mother icon and high school art teacher, who, when asked what made a Floyd native, said: “You have to be born here or bury someone here.” It’s a line that chokes me up, and, having buried a number of dear friends as a community over the years, I understand its truth.
But I only just recently bought my first pair of quality mud boots. I couldn’t afford them for so many years. And last year for Christmas I got some zip-up coveralls. I guess that means we’re staying. I guess it means we belong, and that sometimes I even look the part.
___________Colleen Redman / Read Hippies are from California Part I HERE. Read more stories from Floyd Countians in Floydiana, where this piece first appeared HERE. The last photo here is of grandsons! Josh and Dylan are men now and Dylan has two sons, Bryce and Liam.