Meandering :September 17, 2006
Yesterday we may have gone places that National Geographic doesn’t know about. But Virginia Department of Highways knows about them because be drove on smooth ribbons of asphalt along the borders of Montgomery and Floyd Counties, Virginia.
While Christianburg, the county seat of Montgomery County, has sprawled to include multiple shopping centers and tangled thorough fares, the County Seat of Floyd County, the town of Floyd, has resisted commercialization. Instead of the golden arches there is the Blue Ridge Café, one of a kind, just a cross the square from the historic courthouse. A “real” hardware is on the opposite corner, one where you can still buy pitchforks and barbed wire as well as little red wagons. The “tourist attraction” of town is the Schoolhouse Fabric Store. This three-story pile of fabric and sewing notions draws alumni of the school and other seamstresses to get items they can’t find in crowed malls. And on Friday nights you can go up the street to the Country Store and hear homegrown bluegrass music.
While county seats towns are on most maps, it takes a detailed one to pickup Pilot and Riner even though they both have U. S. Post Offices. Probably only State Maps would have Auburn and Rogers and you may have to get a county map to find Huffviille and Basham.
Picturesque churches salt the countryside. More bland are the closed country stores that one can recognize occasionally. But the striking beauty of the drive was the well-kept farms. They aren’t the extravently adorned like Central Bluegrass horse farms but they are more rolling and bordered with well-maintained fences (mostly wire) and framed with distant mountains. Every turn of the road provides another subject for an artist’s brush by the Artist of the Universe. Nearby commercialization appears to benefit this pastoral area as indicated by new houses, fixed up old houses, and new houses fixed up to look old.
The journey was colored by intersecting gravel roads, many with the name of creeks that dissect the countryside and others that have taken on the name of the predominate family name that live off the main road. Adding color to the area is the memory of stories about moonshiners who populated the region in days gone by. Rocks and trees didn’t provide a viable income for many so they turned to the fermented products. Many of these maverick entrepreneurs also supported the community churches. This apparent contrast can partially be explained by the anthropology of the earlier settlers of the region. Way back in time, their ancestors had left Europe looking for religious and economic freedom. Many had a strong mistrust of man-made institutions. While some were God-fearing men they felt their first call was to take care of their own. Others fell captive to the products they produced and led troubled lives. This was a great area for illegal activity. A native could easily hide in the complicated countryside from those that had not grown up hunting and fishing those woods and streams.
A sport of national popularity had its birth in these hills, NASCAR racing. The moonshiners had to deliver their products. To evade the law the drivers needed powerful cars and superior driving skills to navigate these winding gravel roads. ‘40 Ford coupes were the vehicles of choice. Many had better engines than they had brakes leading to disastrous consequences. A movie, THUNDER ROAD, amplified this lifestyle to the nation.
Blending visual images with stories is an exciting activity. The apparent serenity of the countryside of today masks times past. But the journey gave life to stories I had heard all my life. I guess that is why people make pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
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