Small Town Joy Grand Marshals Announced

Community report

Merlin and Livie Thompson, aged 96 and 91 respectively, represent the theme of the 2022 Floyd Christmas Parade after sharing plenty of “small-town joy” over the years with their helping hands.

The couple will share the title of Grand Marshal for the Small Town Joy parade scheduled for Nov. 27.

Both Merlin and Livie were born and raised in Floyd County where they raised three children: Janice (Michael) Shortt, Joyce (Ronnie Midkiff) and Sherrell (Sheila) Thompson.

They have three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, all of whom live in Floyd County, as did generations before them.

Merlin was one of nine siblings, all born within 11 years. He grew up with three sisters and five brothers.

Livie’s family was smaller with three girls and one boy.

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They both remember the days when they would walk a few miles to school and carry their lunch, usually biscuits and apple butter.

Livie attended Double Springs, the well-known one-room school, and graduated from Check’s school. Merlin went to Payne’s school and then to Floyd’s school.

A one-room school meant that all grades were in one room with one teacher. In those days, schools were heated with coal or wood. The boys were assigned times to help carry coal or wood and bring in water from the spring.

The toilet was an outhouse. Recess was a favorite time for children to just play games – very few schools had a swing and no mention of a playground.

Most of the cooking back then was done in metal or iron pots — no dishwashers. Most everyone had a coffee grinder to grind their beans and usually a freezer instead of a refrigerator.

They milked a cow or two by hand and churned the milk for butter and patted it out to make a pound with the butter printer. Some milk was made into buttermilk to cook with or to be eaten as cornbread and milk.

Cornbread or biscuits were baked every day. People carried milk or butter to a nearby country store and exchanged it for groceries.

Merlin was about 23 and Livie, 19, when electricity became available to homes in 1949.

They really lived in the days of the Little House on the Prairie TV show. The children helped with the chores and all the cooking was done on a wood stove, water was carried from the spring in large metal buckets and oil lamps were used for light.

The clothes were hand washed on a washboard or in a wringer washing machine and then hung to dry on an outside clothesline. Most families had a specific day that was laundry day, and many families preferred Mondays.

At a young age both Merlin and Livie helped with their family gardens and farms. They remember raising turkeys and taking them to market in Roanoke to sell before it was a nice, paved road.

Livie’s father would take her to the market, and being a little girl allowed her to be first in line for their place to sell turkeys, she said.

Livie and her sisters took turns picking beans and swapping housework.

Merlin plowed the garden, cut hay and did farm work in the days when a horse was used instead of a tractor.

At a young age, he helped put several cattle through Pilot to be put on a leased pasture until they were sold at the exchange. This was with his father, “three, four or five” other guys, and it took at least a full day’s walk.

Merlin’s brothers left the farm for government jobs, while he stayed and worked on his father’s farm until it was sold.

Merlin worked hauling apples at the Orchard on top of Bent Mountain with German POWs when he was about 19 years old. The Germans picked the apples, Merlin hauled them to the warehouses and others sorted the apples.

Due to injuries to Merlin’s hands caused by a hawk fork and belt, he was not drafted into the US Army until he was about 26.

After about a year, Merlin was offered the option of being discharged if he signed up for six years of reserve service. He accepted the offer and about nine months later the Korean War started.

Merlin was recalled to active duty and stationed in England during her deployment.

Merlin and Livie were married on 20 November 1954.

For many years they planted a garden and wanted to share the produce with friends and family who did not have fresh vegetables.

Livie canned the vegetables from the garden and later these vegetables would make meals for church dinners, sick friends and funeral meals. She worked for many years in the lunchroom at Floyd County High School, so she knew a lot about cooking.

She retired at age 62; however, she occasionally substituted in the lunchrooms and worked at all schools except Indian Valley until she was 77 years old. That’s when all the food served wasn’t just poured out of a can — it took two days to make a pizza, Livie said.

Livie was known for making bread and provided 1,000 rolls or more for large PTA dinners, madrigal dinners and citizen meetings in the telephone cooperative. In addition, she often took friends to doctor’s appointments.

Merlin worked on a nearby farm and shared his knowledge of gardening with his new neighbor who was unaware of the cold spring temperatures. Merlin said it was too early to put tomato plants out, but his neighbor had come from a warmer area and thought it was time to plant.

After his tomato plants froze, he said he didn’t plant any more until he saw Merlin plant his garden.

As most have learned, Merlin’s words were worth heeding.

A professor at Virginia Tech bought a 400-500 acre farm nearby and quickly realized that Merlin was the right person to learn farming.

Merlin was often called upon to plow someone’s garden, cut their hay, help with a cow, or any country project that needed help.

When it snowed back in the 60’s, it really snowed and people often got their vehicle stuck. They called or knocked on Thompson’s door to see if Merlin could pull their vehicle out.

The Thompson’s have even opened their home to their neighbors – several times – including during blizzards and family emergencies. If there were not enough beds, some overnighters would sleep on the floor.

When a dear friend of the Thompsons, McCray Shortt, died suddenly, Merlin stepped in to help with the cattle, hay and whatever else was needed.

Merlin has been running his tractor in the Tractor Fun Run fundraiser for several years. His neighbor was happy that Merlin pulled a cart with him on his John Deere lawnmower and pretended to drive the whole route too.

Merlin thought it was a pleasure to give his neighbor a way to be involved in the ride, his neighbor was delighted and the crowd along the way found joy in watching their combination.

He has also participated in a number of Floyd Veterans Day Parades.

This past summer, at the age of 96, Merlin still enjoyed helping his daughter in the garden. If you want to know how to do real work, just follow this man around for a day.

On a recent sunny autumn day, November 4th, he was out raking some leaves in the yard. He likes to ride around and talk to friends, and there are many who know him.

Livie has enjoyed growing beautiful flowers, always having lunch ready to be eaten at noon, visits from children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and others who stop by to say hello.

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