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The true simple life, in small-town Virginia

Our children chased fireflies flickering in the evening grass. The cool mountain breezes set off the wind chimes while we sat on the porch sipping lemonade and watching dusk descend on the tiny town of Floyd, Va.

Our summer road trip from Florida took us across an expanse of topography and time. We had left one world for another, the humid heat of the Tampa Bay area to the cooler climate of the Blue Ridge Mountains, from palm trees and beaches to evergreens and rolling hills.

But the trip also sent us back in time. We had traded an urban environment filled with shopping centers and endless children's activity camps for the simpler, slower life that comes with a one-stoplight town and leisurely walks from a friend's house to the stores on Main Street.

I know this sounds like a homage to the fictional town of Mayberry. Indeed, we had watched a DVD collection of the Andy Griffith television shows in our van on our way to Floyd.

I wondered if the show, and my childhood memories, reflected truth or nostalgic tales. The week we spent in Floyd convinced me that certain elements of such a life still exist, in reality as well as on TV.

We went to Floyd, governmental seat for a county with the same name, because our close friends had moved there a year ago. They had left Seattle for this southwest Virginia community, about 55 miles southwest of Roanoke, in search of a less expensive, less hurried lifestyle.

We found a community where people knew each other and welcomed us into their midst. My daughter and the 9- and 4-year-old daughters of our friends roamed freely and safely as they played, rode bikes and scooters.

They picked blackberries, blueberries and raspberries that they put in their breakfast cereals. They went swimming in a state park's lake. Their bike ride to the town's pharmacy and gift shop proved as satisfying as any trip to Target or Wal-Mart.

For adults, Floyd held interest as well.

The Farmer's Supply (and hardware country store) sits across the street from New Age-oriented gift shops. The New Mountain Mercantile offers artistic and handcrafted gift items, as well as artwork and books by local writers.

I browsed the shelves of the Notebook cafe and bookstore. It offered a diverse selection: Bill O'Reilly's book stood near those by Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton. John Grisham and Tom Clancy shared shelf space with Dr. Phil.

Upstairs, by way of a winding, wooden staircase, a small shop sold special coffees, muffins and pastries.

Other places of interest in the area include Mabry Mill, which promotional material touts as "one of the most-photographed mills in the world." In addition to an antiques store, the Chateau Morrisette rivals any winery we'd visited on the West Coast.

Food and refreshment ranged from the solidly traditional Blue Ridge Restaurant to the quirky and organic sophistication of the Oddfellas Cantina. The night I had Moroccan Style Game Hen with a tangy tomato sauce at Oddfellas, Scott Perry played acoustic blues for diners.

The attraction of the little town includes its music. The initial stop on the Virginia Heritage Music Trail, Floyd draws people from beyond the state to hear country, jazz and the blues.

Every Friday night, for instance, a musical jamboree takes place at the Floyd Country Store. It features fiddlers, guitar strummers and banjo pickers from all over the area. Singing and dancing _ by folks with metal shoe taps _ accompany some of the groups that play inside the store, on the sidewalk or in the alleys between the Floyd Barber Shop and the chamber of commerce.

Ultimately, Floyd offered us more than we had expected: We had been looking for a place that seemed different but felt familiar. We think we found it.

Aly Colon is on the faculty of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg.

IF YOU GO

Floyd is on U.S. 221, south of Interstate 81 and about 55 miles southwest of Roanoke.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Floyd Chamber of Commerce (540) 745-4407; www.visitfloyd.org.

Oddfellas Cantina (540) 745-3463; www.oddfellascantina.com.

Chateau Morrisette winery (540) 593-2865; www.thedogs.com.

The Floydfest 3 musical event was in mid August; (540) 745-3378, www.floydfest.com.

The Annual Arts & Crafts Festival is set for Oct. 2-3.

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