-The following is my story of coming to Floyd that first appeared in Floydiana, an e-book by Randall Wells
Where else but in Floyd can you learn from an old-timer how to forage ginseng one day and then meet Wavy Gravy – the Woodstock clown with an ice-cream flavor named after him – in town for FloydFest the next? – Colleen, WVTF radio essay, Homegrown
When Glen McClure was commissioned in 2012 to photograph a Portrait of Floyd for a Jacksonville Center exhibit, I was one of the sidewalk subjects he put into focus. My photo came out looking more like the no-nonsense librarian that my high school aptitude test suggested I’d become than the back-to-the-land, flower-child, country transplant that I actually was.
I was not transplanted from a city, but from a small beach town on the South Shore of Boston, an idyllic peninsula with dance clubs, an ocean front amusement park and a big Irish Catholic family that I never wanted to leave. But my first husband was out of work and his family (transplants from England) had found plenty of it outside of Houston. So off we went to Texas to make our fortune in the building trades, thinking we’d stay a couple of years. A couple turned into seven, and from there it was easier to continue to pioneer life as new settlers.
McClure’s assistant, who was working on the street, taking bio-notes for the exhibit catalog, must have misheard me. He got my comments right about coming to Floyd in 1985 to live a more self-sufficient lifestyle, for the alternative education choices, the beautiful countryside, privacy, community and good water, but somehow the part about a U-haul and a first husband got misconstrued into me riding into town from Texas on a horse. It was actually a Toyota Camry.
Driving half-way across the country with my young sons, Josh (5) and Dylan (3), following behind my first husband in the U-Haul, I felt as if we were being lifted up by a great hand that was to deliver us safely in Floyd. As much as the move seemed pre-destined and guided, finding housing in Floyd wasn’t.
Our move to Floyd was sight unseen, but we had been corresponding with a couple of new Floydians and were particularly drawn to the county via an early version of “A Museletter.” This alter-native newsletter, published monthly for more than 20 years, had been sent to us by Bob Grubel of the Zephyr farm community. I had found Floyd’s Blue Mountain School’s parent-run-cooperative listed in the Waldorf Schools national directory. I wrote to the school and Bob, a Blue Mountain School parent, eventually answered.
We stayed with Jennifer Siep and her roommate Motsy in their farmhouse for the first couple of weeks. I “met” Jennifer via a letter she had written in John Holt’s “Growing without Schooling” newsletter, describing how home-schooling parents in Floyd banded together to meet state requirements for home-schooling as a group. The group was the predecessor of today’s CERC (Community Education Resource Cooperative).
Our first visit to Zephyr was memorable because of the big welcoming hug that Bob gave us, which was not a common greeting in our pre-Floyd life. The women of Zephyr were more preoccupied that day, and there was little indication that they would eventually become some of my closest friends, sharing walks, tea parties, dance marathons, poetry, ceremony, life passages and child-raising.
Our kids and the Zephyr kids hit it off right away, and they all remain close to this day, almost 30 years later. We surprised ourselves on that first visit by leaving them on the farm while we did some errands. Most everyone in Floyd felt familiar, and the whole experience seemed like an alignment falling into place, as though our destiny was almost recognizable and had already happened on some level. I remember saying, “It’s as if one leg was already here and I just had to pull the other one over.”
I hadn’t heard the word “hippie,” let alone seen one since the ‘70s, so I was surprised to find so many in Floyd who identified that way. Yes, I was a flower child myself back in the day, but, as far as I was concerned, “hippies” were from California. Believe it or not, it was a badge of honor to be known as a “freak” or “head” in Boston in the late ‘60s. We were not radical, but anti-establishment, maybe in an idealistic way, being awakened by the music of our generation and wanting the world status quo to change.
It wasn’t long before I was wishing I hadn’t sold all my and gypsy shawls and flowing Indian-print skirts at our moving yard sale in Texas. But this was the MTV ‘80s and I was a Mother Earth News wanna-be homesteader in need of some LL Bean work boots and jeans.
Ironically, it wasn’t until I lived in Floyd that I wore my first tie dye. Legend goes that our early tie dye source in Floyd, Kalinda Wycoff, learned the craft while living on The Farm in Tennessee. For years, she (co-founder and long time owner of New Mountain Mercantile) and others lived communally at The Mill, which I sometimes refer to as “our own Alice’s Restaurant” because so many community dances and events were held there. The three-story Epperly Mill was also home to the community’s first food coop, which eventually morphed into the The Harvest Moon Food Store.
I read or heard a rumor once that the hippies who came to Floyd in the ‘70s and ‘80s were trust fund beneficiaries, but the majority of people I knew lived at or below-the-poverty-line. That was the trade-off we were willing to make to be home raising our kids, pursuing healthy natural lifestyles, living simply (sometimes off the grid) with land stewardship in mind.
I cried when we moved into a large house under construction in Indian Valley because we couldn’t find anyplace else to live. It was a community in the making with many acres of property being developed under the guidance of an Edgar Cayce-like psychic. But the owners had run out of money and my first husband agreed to trade rent for work. The kids and I hiked that property like Lewis and Clark explorers (before the deer tick explosion), and I learned pretty quickly that it wasn’t ever going to work for me to live 25 minutes from town.