“Don’t throw stones at your neighbors if your own windows are glass”-Ben Franklin

After thirty years in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, we still haven’t met a lot of the local folk.  We aren’t anti-social…oh…maybe we are.  Since retiring, we have gotten better at meeting our neighbors but the people around here, the “my family has lived here for one hundred and fifty years” people, are a little slow to “warm up” and will look at “foreigners” with a “jaundiced eye” until you’ve been in the area for a while.  After nearly thirty years, our church family still refers to us as the “new couple” that moved in across from the Runyon’s old place…and the Runyon’s haven’t lived here in a decade or more.

Our “original” across the road neighbors, Farrell and Libby Runyon, were “interesting” in every GOOD way you could use the word.  Retired Baptist missionaries to Africa, our Methodist friends characterized them as “good Baptist brethren.”  With over forty years spent in the southern and western areas of Africa, the Runyons were a fount of information, some that could be applied to the “Dark Corner” where we lived.

During a conversation taking place in the middle of Dr. Runyon’s pasture, he periodically would raise his hands above his head.  After the fourth or fifth time, I could not control my curiosity.  “Dr. Runyon, what are you doing?”  “Keeping the gnats out of my face.”  To emphasize, he raised his arms and sure enough, the gnats not only left his face but mine too…and hovered around his armpits.  I was impressed…and concerned over Dr. Runyon’s personal hygiene…and my own as I apply this “jewel” of knowledge during the hot, humid and gnat filled days of summer.

Dr. Runyon also had the ability to make me feel like a fool…an easy task?  A beekeeper, one of his little minions took offense to me bush hogging too close to their hive and nailed me right on my upper lip.  During the ensuing conversation, as my lip swelled out past my nose, I asked the good doctor how they dealt with the “African” killer bees we had heard was invading the southern United States.  His comment?  “You know Don, all bees in Africa are ‘African’.”  Really?  Silly me.

One morning, after an explosive, expletive-laced argument with Linda Gail the evening before, she met Dr. Runyon at our mailboxes.  Gently and with great tact he informed her that “You know, sound really travels well in this little valley.”  A somewhat puzzled Linda walked to the house contemplating the significance of his comment when the consequences of arguing in our backyard fell on her, and later me, with the weight of the proverbial “ton of bricks.”  Oh my, he heard everything we said.

As good as the Runyons were, so was “Dodger,” but with “Dodger,” the ravages of an ill-lived life might have caught up with him.  He moved into a converted barn type building straight from Home Depot that was sitting in a clump of kudzu a quarter of a mile down Airline Road.  “Dodger” later moved his new girlfriend in and they cleared kudzu, planted flowers and attempted to build their little piece of the American Dream.  With no running water except what ran down the stream in front of their little mansion, they showered at the nearby park and used their outhouse for “other” needs.  Just like our mixed breed, Sassy Marie, Linda Gail adopted them but stopped short of inviting them into the yard to stay.

“Dodger” could be a fount of useful information…usually as it related to “folk” remedies and sometimes even better information if it was early in the day.  He taught us what to look for to treat poison ivy, jewelweed, a plant that grows almost as abundantly as poison ivy around our home.  He even brought Linda Gail a “tea” made from Yarrow to treat gastric issues.  We still use the jewelweed remedy but Linda Gail was a bit reluctant to try the Yarrow tea…as I was to sample his homebrew…smooooooooth.

“Dodger” had run out of luck and “gubment assistance” by the time we met and despite his best attempts, could not quite get his life together.  It wasn’t because he was lazy, the man worked harder than people who were being paid money…except when he was in his “cups.”  A former heavy equipment operator, his issues might have been the alcohol he made or begged off of his girlfriend and consumed at any time during the day or night.

I would say it was alcohol that betrayed his efforts.  “Dodger” had refined his inebriation to an art form, never “stumbling” drunk but not quite sober either.  When “not quite sober” he could talk the “horns off of a billy goat” and remember, I said he was always “not quite sober.”  I also don’t believe “Dodger” liked being told what to do even though he did do “handyman” projects for Linda Gail.  Seems she picks her part-time helpers according to who is the most interesting and needy.  I’m not sure what that says about me.

Hesiod, the Greek poet, once wrote, “A bad neighbor is a misfortune, as much as a good one is a blessing.”  We honestly don’t know about bad neighbors.

This piece was re-written from the book by Don Miller, “Through the Front Gate.” It and others may be purchased or downloaded at

If you are interested in an erotic, romantic adventure, you might be interested Don Miller writing as Lena Christianson.  Her site may be accessed at

Not Real Neighborly


It’s mid-March and it’s cold.  I know, I know, I know.  You Yankee types pull out lounge chairs and sunblock whenever the temperature gets above thirty.  According to my new Dollar Store thermometer, it’s twenty-nine this morning so don’t you bring out the bikinis yet…well, the thermometer only cost a dollar.  It could be off just a bit.

March cold in the foothills of the Blue Ridge is a different kind of cold from the rest of the winter.  The cold is driven by the March winds coming in like a lion and the moisture it collects.  It’s not a dry cold just like in the summer it’s not a dry heat.  The wind is heavy with moisture this morning.  Why we’ve been known to get late March snowstorms that totally shut down the area with its half-inch deposit.  The dairy and bakery businesses revel in their collusion with Mother Nature’s late-season lessons in capitalism.  (If you don’t know what that means message me, I’ll explain.)

Today was clear, no late season snow, and I felt good…really, really good after a winter of arthritic pains, Afib, and seasonal affective disorder.  Good enough to walk the old logging road that connects my home on the Scenic Highway with the more scenic sounding Chicora Road a mile and a quarter to the north.  I walk it when I feel good and when it’s not hunting season.  I walk it when I feel good because I need the strength.  The road begins with a third of a mile thigh and hamstring hammering trek up the side of a small mountain…or steep hill.

I don’t walk it during hunting season for obvious reasons.  One of those crazy AR-15 toting hunters might mistake me for a Buck or a Tom and turn me into a sieve.  My name is Don anyway.  Today I had no excuse.  I felt good and it’s not hunting season.

The old road meanders through a mixed forest.  I was almost immediately greeted by a Pileated woodpecker working the top of a hollowed-out hardwood.  He must have thought I was funny huffin’ and puffin’ as I was.  He laughed and laughed as he flew away.  They are beautiful birds and I do love their distinctive call.

I’ve walked this old road for thirty years now…when I’ve felt good.  It’s changed little.  I’ve got a few more downed trees I need to remove so I can get the tractor or the jeep through.  One of these days…maybe…they’re easy to step over.

What has changed is the ownership of the road.  I don’t own the whole road, there are three of us whose land it runs through.  On the Chicora end, old Vessy has leased his seventy some odd acres out to hunters.  They have turned ole Vessy’s cabin into “a hunting lodge” complete with a new burning pit.  It’s right nice for a hunting lodge…but I wouldn’t like to live there.  There must be a slew of them because the road is now marked with deer stands reminding me of watchtowers.  I actually thought of Jimi Hendrix singing “All Along the Watchtower.”  Understand now why I don’t walk here during hunting season?

Seems they might be doing something else during their offseason.  I smelled the tangy fragrance from a quarter mile away.  Snatches of the sour aroma of fermented corn being carried by the March wind.  I should have turned around then but curiosity got the best of the old geezer.

I saw the smoke wafting above the chimney and they saw me before I saw them.  Three ‘good ole boys’ of ample girth, in camouflage and baseball caps…all carrying hunting rifles.  I should have been afraid…and I was.  Chills chased each other up and down my spine.

Maybe I can disarm them with my smile and winning personality.  Cheerfully I greeted them with a “Morning!  How y’all this fine March morning?”

“We’s good.  You’re trespassin’.”  Not a “How are you?” or so much a “La-di-da.”  I decided not to ask any more questions myself and realized my smile and personality meant nothing to them.

“I’m Don.  I live at the other end of the old logging road.  I’ve been walkin’ it for thirty years and always check on Vessy’s cabin when I come by.”

“Well, we check on it now and with us huntin’, it might be safer if you stay on your land.”  The speaker jutted his chin out and nodded.  His two friends followed suit and jutted out their chins and we all became a cluster of bobbleheads.

Continuing to nod, I decided not to point out, “I ain’t huntin’ season.”  They weren’t very neighborly at all.

The leader of the pack continued, “Yeah, iffin I wuz you I’d probably just stay on your land,” and without so much as a “by your leave” or an offer to taste their homebrew, turned and headed toward the cabin with his two companions in pursuit.

“Well bless your heart.”

Addendum-two days later

It’s not as cool in the foothills of the Blue Ridge this morning.  A bit of warmin’…and pre-April showers on the way.   I feel good but I’m not walking the old logging road today.  Seems like we had a bit of a commotion on the upper end of Chicora yesterday.  Zane, from across the road called me to let me know, telling me a story that brought a smile to my face.

“Revenuers breakin’ up a still you say?”  Yes, I know we don’t call ‘um revenuers anymore.

Hum.  Believe I’ll call ole Vessy and see if it’s safe to walk tomorrow.  Wonder how they found out ‘bout that still?  Maybe those ole boys learned a lesson ‘bout bein’ neighborly.

Names and location were changed to protect the innocent.

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