These High, Green Hills (Mitford Series #3)

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Jan Karon has created a town where we feel wonderfully at home. In Mitford, a village nestled in the hills of North Carolina, she shows us small-town life for what it really is: completely engrossing. And absolutely hilarious. In this irresistible third book of The Mitford Years series, Father Timothy Kavanagh is married to more than his lovable and eccentric Episcopal parishioners. He's also married to Cynthia, his vivacious and talented neighbor. Suddenly, the routine existence of a sixtysomething bachelor is ...
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These High, Green Hills (Mitford Series #3)

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Jan Karon has created a town where we feel wonderfully at home. In Mitford, a village nestled in the hills of North Carolina, she shows us small-town life for what it really is: completely engrossing. And absolutely hilarious. In this irresistible third book of The Mitford Years series, Father Timothy Kavanagh is married to more than his lovable and eccentric Episcopal parishioners. He's also married to Cynthia, his vivacious and talented neighbor. Suddenly, the routine existence of a sixtysomething bachelor is out the window. How will they keep his sofa-sized dog at a safe distance from her arrogant, albeit famous, cat? Can he learn to love the old-Italian-villa look his wife is bent on giving the rectory? These concerns pale, however, beside the growing pains of Dooley Barlowe, the thrown-away boy whom the rector loves as his own son. Then, the poverty and violence of an area known as the Creek comes knocking at the rectory door. Clearly, being at home in Mitford has its challenges. And, when the rector goes on a camping trip with the church youth group, he's forced to confront the toughest challenge of all - his own fears.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This third in the Mitford series (At Home in Mitforda 1996 ABBY Book of the Year finalistand Light in the Window) is another sympathetic portrayal of small-town Southern life with just enough drama to carry the plot and gracefully developed portraits of endearing characters. Allusions to past events and cameos by peripheral characters will delight the fan but may frustrate the reader new to Karon's work. Mitford is a Southeastern mountain town where everyone turns out for benefactress Sadie Baxter's birthday, where the police chief gives copies of Southern Living to inmatesand where social trouble brews in a hillbilly enclave across the creek. Episcopal minister Timothy Kavanagh of Lord's Chapel is the pivotal character. A lifelong bachelor adjusting to marriage for the first time at 63, he has no perspective on his faith and future until he and his new wife, Cynthia, are lostand foundin a cave on a youth-group camping trip. Most compelling in Timothy's affectionately drawn flock are the young people. Thirteen-year-old Dooley Barlowe was abandoned at the rectory and now struggles to adjust to Timothy's Pygmalion efforts; Lacey Turner, also 13, is saved from her father's abuse as much by Timothy as by social services. Like glass chips tumbling in a kaleidoscope, the people at Mitford fall neatly into place at story's end, having provided a cozy and satisfying read. Author tour. (Aug.)
Library Journal
Fans of Karon's previous novels, At Home in Mitford and A Light in the Window, will find themselves in familiar territory. While changes come to the affable Episcopal priest Father Tim and his neighbors in the small Southern town of Mitford, the tone and style remain consistent. Karon blends humor with sorrow and grants her characters a healthy dose of heavenly grace to face life's challenges. This outing finds Father Tim adjusting to married life, dealing with a new church computer, confronting issues of domestic violence and child abuse, providing courtship advice to the local newspaper editor, and facing the prospect of retirement. Despite upheavals and strained friendships, peace and harmony are inevitably restored, and Mitford rests comfortable once again. Recommended for most fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/96.]Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll., N.C.
Mary Ellen Quinn
Some readers may already be familiar with Father Tim Kavanaugh, sixtyish rector of Lord's Chapel in the tiny southern town of Mitford. In this, the third Mitford novel following "At Home in Mitford" (1994) and "A Light in the Window" (1995), Father Tim is newly married to his next-door neighbor, a writer of children's books. The boy Father Tim took under his wing in a previous book is now away at a Virginia prep school, tuition paid by Miss Sadie Baxter, Mitford's oldest resident. Father Tim ministers to his parishioners, adjusts to married life, meets the other regulars at the Grill most mornings for breakfast, tries to master a new computer, and hires a chaplain for the nursing home being built just outside town. But Father Tim's greatest challenges come from the inhabitants of the hardscrabble community called the Creek, where poverty, addiction, and domestic violence are not uncommon. Gentle without being sentimental, imbued with religious faith without being preachy, this novel is one of small moments, but as Father Tim learns from his wife, some of life's greatest rewards come from the smallest pleasures.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143035053
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 6/28/2005
  • Series: Mitford Series , #3
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 464
  • Product dimensions: 4.34 (w) x 6.82 (h) x 1.04 (d)

Meet the Author

Jan Karon

Jan Karon, born Janice Meredith Wilson in the foothills of North Carolina, was named after the title of a popular novel, Janice Meredith.

Jan wrote her first novel at the age of ten. "The manuscript was written on Blue Horse notebook paper, and was, for good reason, kept hidden from my sister. When she found it, she discovered the one curse word I had, with pounding heart, included in someone's speech. For Pete's sake, hadn't Rhett Butler used that very same word and gotten away with it? After my grandmother's exceedingly focused reproof, I've written books without cussin' ever since."

Several years ago, Karon left a successful career in advertising to move to the mountain village of Blowing Rock, North Carolina, and write books. "I stepped out on faith to follow my lifelong dream of being an author," she says. "I made real sacrifices and took big risks. But living, it seems to me, is largely about risk."

Enthusiastic booksellers across the country have introduced readers of all ages to Karon's heartwarming books. At Home in Mitford, Karon's first book in the Mitford series, was nominated for an ABBY by the American Booksellers Association in 1996 and again in 1997. Bookstore owner, Shirley Sprinkle, says, "The Mitford Books have been our all-time fiction bestsellers since we went in business twenty-five years ago. We've sold 10,000 of Jan's books and don't see any end to the Mitford phenomenon."

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    1. Also Known As:
      Janice Meredith Wilson
    2. Hometown:
      Blowing Rock, North Carolina
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 30, 1936
    2. Place of Birth:
      Lenoir, North Carolina

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Through the Hedge

He stood at the kitchen window and watched her coming through the hedge.

    What was she lugging this time? It appeared to be a bowl and pitcher. Or was it a stack of books topped by a vase?

    The rector took off his glasses, fogged them, and wiped them with his handkerchief. It was a bowl and pitcher, all right. How the little yellow home next door had contained all the stuff they'd recently muscled into the rectory was beyond him.

    "For your dresser," she said, as he held the door open.


    The last thing he wanted was a bowl and pitcher on his dresser. The top of his dresser was his touchstone, his home base, his rock in a sea of change. That was where his car keys resided, his loose coins, his several crosses, his cuff links, his wallet, his checkbook, his school ring, and a small jar of buttons with a needle and thread.

    It was also where he kept the mirror in which he occasionally examined the top of his head. Was his hair still thinning, or, by some mysterious and hoped-for reversal, growing in again?

    "Cynthia," he said, going upstairs in the wake of his blond and shapely wife, "about that bowl and pitcher ..."

    "The color is wonderful. Look at the blues. It will relieve all your burgundy and brown!"

    He did not want his burgundy and brown relieved.

* * *

    He saw it coming.

    Eversince their marriage on September seventh, she had plotted to lug that blasted armoire over for the rectory guest room.

    The lugging over was one thing; it was the lugging back that he dreaded. They had, for example, lugged over an oriental rug that was stored in her basement. "Ten by twelve!" she announced, declaring it perfect for the bare floor of the rectory dining room.

    After wrestling the table and chairs into the hall, they had unrolled the rug and unrolled the rug—to kingdom come. It might have gone up the walls on all four sides and met at the chandelier over the table.

    "This is a rug for a school gym!" he said, wiping the pouring sweat from his brow.

    She seemed dumbfounded that it didn't fit, and there they had gone, like pack mules, carting it through the hedge again.

    The decision to keep and use both houses had been brilliant, of course. The light in the rectory would never equal that of her studio next door, where she was already set up with books and paints and drawing board. This meant his study could remain unchanged—his books could occupy the same shelves, and his vast store of sermon notebooks in the built-in cabinets could hold their place.

    Marrying for the first time at the age of sixtysomething was change enough. It was a blessed luxury to live with so few rearrangements in the scheme of things, and life flowing on as usual. The only real change was the welcome sharing of bed and board.

    Over breakfast one morning, he dared to discuss his interest in getting the furniture settled.

    "Why can't we keep things as they were ... in their existing state? It seemed to work...."

    "Yes, well, I like that our houses are separate, but I also want them to be the same—sort of an organic whole."

    "No organic whole will come of dragging that armoire back and forth through the hedge. It looks like a herd of elephants has passed through there already."

    "Oh, Timothy! Stop being stuffy! Your place needs fluffing up, and mine needs a bit more reserve. For example, your Chippendale chairs would give a certain sobriety to my dining table."

    "Your dining table is the size of something in our nursery school. My chairs would look gigantic."

    She said exactly what he thought she would say. "We could try it and see."

    "Cynthia, trust me on this. My chairs will not look right with your table, and neither will that hand-painted magazine rack do anything for my armchair."

    "Well, what was the use of getting married, then?"

    "I beg your pardon?"

    "I mean, if no one is going to change on either side, if we're both just going to be our regular, lifetime selves, what's the use?"

    "I think I see what you're getting at. Will nothing do, then, but to cart those chairs to your house? And what about my own table? It will be bereft of chairs. I hardly see the point." He felt like jumping through the window and going at a dead run toward the state line.

    "One thing at a time," she said happily. "It's all going to work out perfectly."

dear Stuart,

    thanx for your note re: diocesan mtg, and thank martha for the invitation to put my feet under yr table afterward, however, I must leave for home at once, following the mtg—hope you'll understand.
    while i'm at it, let me ask you:
    why are women always moving things around? at Sunday School, jena iivey just had the youth group move the kindergarten bookcases to a facing wall.
    on the homefront, my househelp has moved a ladderback chair from my bedroom into the hall, never once considering that i hung my trousers over it for 14 years, and put my shoes on the seat so they could be found in an emergency.
    last but certainly not least, if C could lift me in my armchair and put it by the window while i'm dozing, she would do it.
    without a doubt, you have weightier things to consider, but tell me, how does one deal with this?
    i hasten to add that ii've never been happier in my life. to tell the truth, i am confounded that such happiness—in such measure—even exists.

    He signed the note, typed on his Royal manual, thankful that Stuart Cullen was not merely his bishop, but his closest personal friend since the halcyon days of seminary.

Fr Timothy Kavanaugh,
The Chapel of Our Lord and Savior
Old Church Lane, Mitford, N.C.

Dear Timothy:

    In truth, it is disconcerting when one's househelp, SS supervisor, and wife do this sort of thing all at once.
    My advice is: do not fight it. It will wear off.
    In His peace,

    P.S. Martha would add a note, but she is busy moving my chest of drawers to the far side of our bedroom. As I am dealing with an urgent matter with the House of Bishops, I could not be browbeaten to help, and so she has maneuvered it, at last, onto an old bedspread, and I can hear her hauling the whole thing across the floor above me. This particular behavior had lain dormant in her for nearly seven years, and has suddenly broken forth again.

    Perhaps it is something in the water.

* * *

    He could see, early on, that beds were a problem that needed working out.

    They had spent their wedding night in his bed at the rectory, where they had rolled down their respective sides and crashed together in the middle.

    "What is this trough doing in your bed?" she asked.

    "It's where I sleep," he said, feeling sheepish.

    They had been squeezed together like sardines the livelong night, which he had profoundly enjoyed, but she had not. "Do you think this is what's meant by `the two shall be one flesh'?" she murmured, her cheek smashed against his.

    The following night, he trooped through the hedge with his pajamas and toothpaste in a grocery bag from The Local.

    Her bed was a super-king-size, and the largest piece of furniture in her minuscule house.

    He found it similar in breadth to the state of Texas, or possibly the province of Saskatchewan. Was that a herd of buffalo racing toward him in the distance, or a team of sled dogs? "Cynthia!" he shouted across the vast expanse, and waited for the echo.

    They had ordered a new mattress for the rectory immediately after returning from their honeymoon in Stuart Cullen's summer house. There, on the rocky coast of Maine, they had spent time listening to the cry of the loons, holding hands, walking along the shore, and talking until the small hours of the morning. The sun turned her fair skin a pale toast color that he found fascinating and remarkable; and he watched three freckles emerge on the bridge of her nose, like stars coming out. Whatever simple thing they did together, they knew they were happier than ever before in their lives.

    One evening, soon after the new mattress and springs were installed at the rectory, he found her sitting up in bed as he came out of the shower.

    "I've had a wonderful idea, Timothy! A fireplace! Right over there where the dresser is."

    "What would I do with my dresser?"

    She looked at him as if he had toddled in from the church nursery. "Put it in the alcove, of course."

    "Then I couldn't see out the window."

    "But how much time do you spend staring out the alcove window?"

    "When you were parading about with Andrew Gregory, a great deal of time." His face burned to admit it, but yes, he'd been jealous of the handsome antique dealer who had squired her around for several months.

    She smiled, leaning her head to one side in that way he could barely resist. "A fireplace would be so romantic."


    "Why must I be the romantic in the family while you hold up the conservative, let's-don't-make-any-changes end?"

    He sat down beside her. "How quickly you forget. When we were going steady, you said I was wildly romantic."

    She laughed and kissed him on the cheek. "And I was right, of course. I'm sorry, old dearest."

    He regretted being anyone's old dearest.

    "Old dearest, yourself," he said grumpily. "I am, after all, only six years your senior."

    "By the calendar," she said imperiously, referring, he supposed, to something decrepit in his overall attitude about life.

    In any case, the fireplace issue did not come up again.

* * *

    In truth, he had no words for his happiness. It grew deeper every day, like the digging of a well, and astounded him by its warmth and power. He seemed to lose control of his very face, which, according to the regulars at the Main Street Grill, displayed a foolish and perpetual grin.

    "I love you ... terribly," he said, struggling to express it.

    "I love you terribly, also. It's scary. What if it should end?"

    "Cynthia, good grief ..."

    "I know I shouldn't talk of endings when this is a blessed beginning."

    "Don't then," he said, meaning it.

* * *

    That Barnabas had so willingly given up the foot of his master's bed to sleep on a rug in the hall was a gesture he would never forget. Not only did his dog enjoy eighteenth-century poets and submit to his weekly bath without rancor, his dog was a gentleman.

* * *

    The decisions were made, and both parties were in amicable accord.

    They would sleep at the rectory primarily, and on occasion at the little yellow house. Though she would work there, as always, they would treat it much as a second home, using it for refreshment and private retreat.

    He promised to have his sermon well under control each Saturday afternoon, with time to relax with her on Saturday evening, and he would continue to make breakfast on Sunday morning.

    He showed her where his will was, and promised to have it rewritten. She confessed she didn't have a will, and promised to have one drawn up.

    If they should ever, God forbid, have a misunderstanding, neither would dash off to the other house to sulk.

    He would continue to have the cheerful and enterprising Puny Guthrie, née Bradshaw, clean the rectory three days a week, and Cynthia would use her services on a fourth day, next door.

    They would go on with their separate checking accounts, make some mutual investments, counsel with the other about gift offerings, and never spend more than a certain fixed sum without the other's prior agreement.

    He suggested fifty dollars as the fixed sum.

    "One hundred!" she countered.

    He was glad he had opened the bidding low. "One hundred, then, and I keep that old jacket you earmarked for the Bane and Blessing sale."


    They laughed.

    They shook hands.

    They felt relieved.

    Getting a marriage off on the right foot was no small matter.

* * *

    "I reckon you're gone with th' wind," said Percy Mosely, who rang up his lunch tab at the Main Street Grill.

    "How's that?" asked the rector.

    "Married an' all, you'll not be comin' in regular, I take it." The proprietor of the Grill felt hurt and betrayed, he could tell.

    "You've got that wrong, my friend."

    "I do?" said Percy, brightening.

    "I'll be coming in as regular as any man could. My wife has a working life of her own, being a well-known children's book writer and illustrator. She will not be trotting out hot vittles for my lunch every day—not by a long shot."

    Percy looked suspicious. "What about breakfast?"

    "That," said the rector, pocketing the change, "is another matter entirely."

    Percy frowned. He liked his regulars to be married to his place of business.

* * *

    He looked up from his chair in the study. Curlers, again.

    "I have to wear curlers," she said, as if reading his mind. "I'm going to Lowell tomorrow."

    "Lowell? Whatever for?"

    "A school thing. They want me to read Violet Goes to France to their French class, and then do a program in the auditorium."

    "Must you?"

    "Must I what? Read Violet Goes to France? That's what they asked me to read."

    "No, must you go to Lowell?"

    "Well, yes."

    He didn't want to say anything so idiotic, but he would miss her, as if she were being dropped off the end of the earth.

    A long silence ensued as she curled up on the sofa and opened a magazine. He tried to read, but couldn't concentrate.

    He hadn't once thought of her traveling with her work. Uneasy, he tried to let the news sink in. Lowell. Somebody there had been shot on the street in broad daylight.

    And another thing—Lowell was a full hundred miles away. Did she have good brakes? Plenty of gas? When had she changed her oil?

    "How's your oil?" he asked soberly.

    She laughed as if he'd said something hilariously funny. Then she left the sofa and came to him and kissed him on the forehead. He was instantly zapped by the scent of wisteria, and went weak in the knees.

    She looked him in the eye. "I love it when you talk like that. My oil is fine, how's yours?"

    "Cynthia, Cynthia," he said, pulling her into his lap.

* * *

    "Guess what?" said Emma, who was taping a photo of her new grandchild on the wall next to her desk.

    This was his secretary's favorite game, and one he frankly despised. "What?"


    "Let's see. You're going to quit working for the Episcopalians and go to work for the Baptists." He wished.

    "I wish," she said, rolling her eyes, "Try again."

    "Blast, Emma, I hate this game."

    It's good for you, it exercises the brain."

    "Esther Bolick's orange marmalade cake recipe is coming out in the New York Times food section."

    "See? You don't even try. You're just talking to hear your head roar. One more guess."

    "Give me a clue."

    "It has to do with somebody being mad."

    "The vestry. It must have something to do with the vestry."

    "Wrong. Do you want me to tell you?"

    "I beg you."

    "Marge Wheeler left her best basket in the kitchen after the bishop's brunch last June, and Flora Lou Wilcox put it in the Bane and Blessing sale. Somebody walked off with it for a hundred dollars! Can you believe a hundred dollars for a basket with a loose handle? Marge is mad as a wet hen, she threatened to sue. But Flora Lou said she doesn't have a leg to stand on, since you're always running notices in the pew bulletin to pick up stuff left in th' kitchen."

    "Ummm. Keep me posted."

    "It's been four months since the brunch, so I can see Flora Lou's point that Marge should have picked it up and carted it home. Anyway, how could Flora Lou know it was handmade by Navajo Indians in 1920?" Emma sighed. "Of course, I can see Marge's point, too, can't you?"

    He could, but he knew better than to intervene unless asked. His job, after all, was Sales and Service.

    He rifled through the mail. A note from his cousin, Walter, and wife, Katherine, who had done the Ireland jaunt with him last year.

Dear Timothy,

    Since Ireland is now old stomping grounds, why don't you and Cynthia plan to go with us next summer? Thought we'd plant the seed, so it can sprout over the winter.
    We shall never forget how handsome you looked on the other side of the pulpit, standing with your beautiful bride. We love her as much as we love you, which is pecks and bushels, as ever, Katherine
    PS, Pls advise if canna and lily bulbs should be separated in the fall, I'm trying to find a hobby that has nothing to do with a pasta machine
Yrs, Walter

    He rummaged toward the bottom of the mail stack.


    A note from Dooley Barlowe, in that fancy prep school for which his eldest parishioner, Miss Sadie Baxter, was shelling out serious bucks.

    Hey. I don't like it here. That brain in a jar that we saw is from a medical school. I still don't know whose brain it is. When are you coming back? Bring Barnbus and granpaw and Cynthia. I culd probly use a twenty. Dooley

    There! Not one `ain't,' and complete sentences throughout. Hallelujah!

    Who could have imagined that this boy, once barely able to speak the King's English, would end up in a prestigious school in Virginia?

    He gazed at the note, shaking his head.

    Scarcely more than two years ago, Dooley Barlowe had arrived at the church office, dirty, ragged, and barefoot, looking for a place to "take a dump." His grandfather had been too ill to care for the boy, who was abandoned by a runaway father and alcoholic mother, and Dooley had ended up at the rectory. By grace alone, he and Dooley had managed to live through those perilous times.

    "I've been wondering," said Emma, peering at him over her glasses, "Is Cynthia goin' to pitch in and help around the church?"

    "She's free to do as much or as little as she pleases."

    "I've always thought a preacher's wife should pitch in." She set her mouth in that way he deplored. "If you ask me, which you didn't, the parish will expect it."

    Yes, indeed, if he could get the Baptists to take Emma Newland off his hands, he would be a happy man.

* * *

    "Miss Sadie," he said when she answered the phone at Fernbank. "I've had a note from Dooley. He says he doesn't like it in that fancy school."

    "He can like it or lump it," she said pleasantly.

    "When you're dishing out twenty thousand a year, you sure can be tough, Miss Sadie."

    "If I couldn't be tough, Father, I wouldn't have twenty thousand to dish out."

    "You'll be glad to know the headmaster says he's doing all right. A little slow on the uptake, but holding his own with those rich kids. In fact, they're not all rich. Several are there on scholarship, with no more assets than our Dooley."

    "Good! You mark my words, he'll be better for it. And don't you go soft on me, Father, and let him talk you into bailing him out in the middle of the night."

    "You can count on it," he said.

    "Louella and I have nearly recovered from all the doings in June...."

    "June was a whopper, all right."

    "We're no spring chickens, you know."

    "You could have fooled me."

    "I'll be ninety my next birthday, but Louella doesn't tell her age. Anyway, we're going to have you and Cynthia up for supper. What did we say we'd have, Louella?"

    He heard Louella's mezzo voice boom from a corner of the big kitchen, "Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, an' cole slaw!"

    "Man!" he exclaimed, quoting Dooley.

    The announcement rolled on. "Hot biscuits, cooked apples, deviled eggs, bread and butter pickles ..."

    Good Lord! The flare-up from his diabetes would have him in the emergency room before the rest of them pushed back from the table.

    "And what did we say for dessert?" Miss Sadie warbled into the distance.

    "Homemade coconut cake!"

    Ah, well, that was a full coma right there. Hardly any of his parishioners could remember he had this blasted disease. The information seemed to go in one ear and out the other.

    "Ask Louella if she'll marry me," he said.

    "Louella, the Father wants to know if you'll marry him."

    "Tell 'im he got a short mem'ry, he done married Miss Cynthia."

    He laughed, contented with the sweetness of this old friendship. "Just name the time," he said. "We'll be there."

* * *

    Autumn drew on in the mountains.

    Here, it set red maples on fire; there, it turned oaks russet and yellow. Fat persimmons became the color of melted gold, waiting for frost to turn their bitter flesh to honey. Sassafras, dogwoods, poplars, redbud—all were torched by autumn's brazen fire, displaying their colorful tapestry along every ridge and hogback, in every cove and gorge.

    The line of maples that marched by First Baptist to Winnie Ivey's cottage on Little Mitford Creek was fully ablaze by the eleventh of October.

    "The best ever!" said several villagers, who ran with their cameras to document the show.

    The local newspaper editor, J. C. Hogan, shot an extravagant total of six rolls of film. For the first time since the nation's bicentennial, readers saw a four-color photograph on the front page of the Mitford Muse.

    Everywhere, the pace was quickened by the dazzling light that now slanted from the direction of Gabriel Mountain, and the sounds of football practice in the schoolyard.

    Avis Packard put a banner over the green awning of The Local: Fresh Valley Hams Now, Collards Coming.

    Dora Pugh laid on a new window at the hardware store featuring leaf rakes, bicycle pumps, live rabbits, and iron skillets. "What's th' theme of your window?" someone asked. "Life," replied Dora.

    The library introduced its fall reading program and invited the author of the Violet books to talk about where she got her ideas. "I have no idea where I get my ideas," she told Avette Harris, the librarian. "They just come." "Well, then," said Avette, "do you have any ideas for another topic?"

    The village churches agreed to have this year's All-Church Thanksgiving Feast with the Episcopalians, and to get their youth choirs together for a Christmas performance at First Presbyterian.

    At Lord's Chapel, the arrangements on the altar became gourds and pumpkins, accented by branches of the fiery red maple. At this time of year, the rector himself liked doing the floral offerings. He admitted it was a favorite season, and his preaching, someone remarked, grew as electrified as the sharp, clean air.

    "Take them," he said one Sunday morning, lifting the cup and the Host toward the people, "in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on Him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving."

    Giving his own wife the Host was an act that might never cease to move and amaze him. More than sixty years a bachelor, and now this—seeing her face looking up expectantly, and feeling the warmth of her hand as he placed the bread in her palm. "The body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for you, Cynthia."

    He couldn't help but see the patch of colored light that fell on her hair through the stained-glass window by the rail, as if she were being appointed to something divine. Surely there could be no divinity in having to live the rest of her life with him, with his set-in-concrete ways and infernal diabetes.

    They walked home together after church, hand in hand, his sermon notebook tucked under his arm. He felt as free as a schoolboy, as light as air. How could he ever have earned God's love, and hers into the bargain?

    The point was, he couldn't. It was all grace, and grace alone.

* * *

    He was sitting in his armchair by the fireplace, reading the newspaper. Barnabas ambled in from the kitchen and sprawled at his feet.

    Cynthia, barefoot and in her favorite robe, sat on the sofa and scribbled in a notebook. One of his antiquated towels was wrapped around her damp hair. He still couldn't get over the sight of her on his sofa, looking as comfortable as if she lived here—which, he was often amazed to realize, she did.

    "Wasn't it wonderful?" she asked.

    "Wasn't what wonderful?"

    "Our wedding."

    "It was!" She brought the subject up fairly often, and he realized he'd run out of anything new to say about it.

    "I love thinking about it," she said, plumping up a needlepoint pillow and putting it behind her head. "A tuxedo and a tab collar are a terrific combination."

    "No kidding?" He would remember that.

    "I think you should dress that way again at the first possible opportunity."

    He laughed. "It doesn't take much for you."

    "That's true, dearest, except in the area of my new husband. There, it took quite a lot."

    He felt that ridiculous, uncontrollable grin spreading across his face.

    "It was a wonderful idea to ask Dooley to sing. He was absolutely masterful. And thank goodness for Ray Cunningham's video camera. I love the frames of you and Stuart in his bishop's regalia, standing in the churchyard ... and the part where Miss Sadie and Preacher Greer are laughing together."

    "Another case of two hearts beating as one."

    "Would you like to see it again? I'll make popcorn."

    "Maybe in a day or two." Hadn't they watched it only last week?

    "It was very sweet and charming, the way you insisted on baking a ham for our reception."

    "I always bake a ham for wedding receptions at Lord's Chapel," he said. "I'm stuck in that mode."

    "Tell me something ...?"

    "Anything!" Would he really tell her anything?

    "How did you unstick your mode long enough to propose to me? What happened?"

    "I realized ... that is, I ..." He paused thoughtfully and rubbed his chin. "To tell the truth, I couldn't help myself."

    "Ummm," she said, smiling at him across the room. "You know I love that you knelt on one knee."

    "Actually, I was prepared to go down on both knees. As soon as I dropped to one, however, you saw what was coming, and seemed so happy about it, I didn't bother to advance to the full kneel."

    She laughed uproariously, and held her arms out to him. "Please come over here, dearest. You're so far away over there!"

    The evening news was just coming on when the phone rang. It was his doctor and friend, Hoppy Harper, calling from the hospital.

    "How fast can you get here?"

    "Well ..."

    "I'll explain later. Just get here."

    He was out the door in thirty seconds.

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Table of Contents

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Reading Group Guide


Come away to Mitford, the small town that takes care of its own. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Mitford is a crazy quilt of saints and sinners – lovable eccentrics all. Seen through the eyes of Father Tim, the long-suffering Village Rector, Mitford abounds in both mysteries and miracles, compelling readers to return again and again to this beloved series.

In the tradition of James Herriot, Bailey White, and Garrison Keillor, author Jan Karon brilliantly captures the foibles and delights of a hilarious cast of characters.


Book I: In At Home in Mitford, Father Tim finds himself running on empty. Even after twelve years of shepherding his flock, he finds that Emma, his secretary, persists in treating him like a ten-year-old. Barnabas, a huge black dog, adopts him, and a hostile mountain boy, Dooley, is thrust into his care. To add to his confusion, a growing friendship with Cynthia Coppersmith, his new neighbor, stirs emotions he hasn't felt in years.

Book II: In A Light in the Window, Father Tim is in love and running scared. Cynthia has won his heart, but he is set in his ways and afraid of letting go. To complicate things, a wealthy and powerful widow pursues Father Tim, plying him with crab cobbler and old sherry. In the ensuing comedy of errors, he just can't set his foot right. Somehow the antidote to this confusion rests in the history of his oldest and dearest parishioner, Miss Sadie, and the discovery of family she didn't know she had.

Book III: In These High, Green Hills, Father Tim fulfills Cynthia's conviction that deep down he is a man of romance, panache, and daring. Though his cup of joy overflows, his heart goes out to those around him who so badly need the healing aid of a loving heart. Chief among these is Dooley, his teenage ward, whose rough edges grate against the boarding school he both loves and hates. Can Father Tim face the much deeper needs of Dooley's mother, Pauline, and the battered young girl Lace, whose childhood has been a horror story of neglect?

Book IV: In Out to Canaan, Father Tim grapples with his sixty-fourth birthday and his decision to announce his retirement. That's just one element of change Father Tim and his beloved Mitford struggle with. A Mayoral election threatens to divide the town. Mitford's long-term mayor, Esther Cunningham, whose slogan is "Mitford Takes Care of Its Own", may be ousted by Mack Stroupe ("Mack for Mitford, Mitford for Mack"). Old friends are retiring, even moving away. Change seems to be the only constant, and when Mule Skinner, a regular at the Main Street Grill, grimly asserts, "I despise change," Father Tim wholeheartedly agrees. Is it unreasonable to hope that all Father Tim holds precious might somehow be preserved? Or is transformation the real way of things? Readers new and old will be reassured that the uncommon delight of life in Mitford lives on.


Jan Karon was born in Lenoir, North Carolina, in 1937 ("A great year for the Packard automobile," she says). Her creative skills first came alive when her family moved to a farm. "On the farm there is time to muse and dream," she says. "I am endlessly grateful I was reared in the country. As a young girl I couldn't wait to get off that farm, to go to Hollywood or New York. But living in those confined, bucolic circumstances was one of the best things that ever happened to me."

Jan knew that she wanted to be a writer, and even wrote a novel at the age of ten. Her first real opportunity as a writer came at age eighteen when she took a job as a receptionist at an ad agency. She kept leaving her writing on her boss's desk until he noticed her ability. Soon she was launched on a forty-year career in advertising. She won assignments in New York and San Francisco, numerous awards, and finally an executive position with a national agency.

Recently she left advertising to write books, and moved to Blowing Rock, North Carolina, a tiny town of 1,800 perched at 5,000 feet in the Blue Ridge mountains. "I immediately responded to the culture of village life," says Jan. "And I must say the people welcomed me. I have never felt so at home."

Blowing Rock is the model for Mitford, and the similarities are strong. "None of the people in Mitford are actually based upon anyone in Blowing Rock," says Jan. "Yet, the spirit of my characters is found throughout this real-life village. You can walk into Sonny's Grill in Blowing Rock and find the same kind of guys who hang around Mitford's Main Street Grill."

Jan is quick to assert that there are Mitfords all over the country, those hundreds of towns where readers of Jan's books cherish their own cast of eccentric and beloved characters. Currently, one of Jan's chief delights is getting to meet those readers. "Some people finish writing and open a bottle of scotch or a box of chocolates," she says. "My reward is meeting my readers face-to-face. I think an author is something like a glorified bartender. My readers tell me all kinds of things about their lives, and I get these long, long letters. I answer every one, of course."

Jan has a daughter, Candace Freeland, who is a photojournalist and musician.


Q: You write about the small town of Mitford, yet haven't you spent most of your life in cities?

A: Until I was twelve I lived in the country, then I spent many years in cities. I think that I was born with a kind of deep affinity for the rural, the rustic. In addition, I'm very drawn to the pastoral novels of the English genre – the village novel where a small group is used to paint a picture of a larger society.

I still have in me a great love for the agrarian – for what this country was, for what we still are. People say, "Oh well, I guess there's no such thing as Mitford." Well, the good news is there are Mitfords all over the country, and there are still great stretches of open land and pastures and meadows and fields. It's not all bad news. There's so much left of this country that is reasonable and moral and strong. And that's the part I relate to.

Q: You've often said how important a rural upbringing was for you. How has it influenced your writing?

A: On the farm there were long passages of time in which to observe. The senses are very important to me, and I try to bring the experience of the senses into my writing. And life on the farm is very graphic. Calves are dropped, colts are foaled, manure lies steaming in the sun. It's the bottom line of what life is about.

Q: Mitford is packed with delightful characters like Dooley, Miss Rose, Emma, Miss Sadie, and Homeless Hobbes. Where do they all come from?

A: Darned if I know. My characters walk in and introduce themselves to me and I'm stuck with them. When I first moved to Blowing Rock to write a book, I struggled hard to write according to the outline I came here with, but the book never worked. The characters never got off the page. That was a real defeat for me. "Woman's dream turns to nightmare," I thought. "I don't know how to write a book!"

Then one night in my mind's eye I saw an Episcopal priest walking down the street. I decided to follow him and see where he went. Well, he went to a dog named Barnabas, they went to a boy named Dooley, and the story unfolded before me. Instead of me driving the story, the story began to drive me! I got interested, wrote a couple of chapters, and there you have it.

Q: How much do you personally relate to Father Tim? Are you very much like him?

A: Father Tim's personality is far more conservative than mine, but like Father Tim, I don't know a great deal about having fun. If I get dragged into it, I can always enjoy it, but it's hard for me to go out and find it on my own. And of course we both share a faith. My books are formed on my connection to God. That's the seasoning in the stew.

Q: How would you describe the nature of that faith?

A: In my books I try to depict not a glorious faith with celestial fireworks, but a daily faith, a routine faith, a seven-days-a-week faith. Father Tim's faith is part of his everyday life. He has simple prayers, not polished, pious prayers. He follows the Apostle Paul's command that we pray without ceasing. I try to depict how our faith may be woven into our daily life, like brandy poured into coffee. I believe that spirituality needs to be basic, common, everyday.

Q: Father Tim seems in the thick of things whether he wants to be or not. How does this affect him?

A: In the first book, At Home in Mitford, he lived a very quiet life. In the subsequent books we are able to see far more of Father Tim's humanity because he is surrounded by people. That means that his heart is going to be broken and his patience is going to be stretched – all of the things that happen when we get involved with other people. This has made him a much more human figure.

Father Tim is very heroic but he does grand things in such a quiet way that he doesn't assume the proportions of a hero. I think Father Tim is somebody who's into recycling and restoring people. It comes from two places inside of him. First of all, it comes from that place where he was so deeply wounded in his relationship with his father. He is in a sense recycling himself; he's still trying to heal himself. And second, he operates on the fuel, the steam that comes from his relationship with Jesus Christ. But he's definitely into reclamation, recycling, helping people find the way – which is what Jesus is all about. So I suppose that Father Tim is a type of Christ figure – not just because he is a preacher but because of the way he is constructed.

Q: In Out to Canaan, Father Tim lives in a chaotic household. Did you grow up in such a household?

A: No, I didn't. I've lived a fairly ordered life. Being a writer requires a lot of solitude. I've not lived like that, but I've always looked toward those households with a certain longing.

Q: Where do you write?

A: My studio stretches across the back of my little house. It has eight windows that look out on a copse of trees. I can see the blue outline of the mountains in the distance. Where I write is exceedingly important to me. I am never comfortable unless I am in a room that pleases me. I need the pictures on the wall to be hanging straight. I have to do my housekeeping before I can sit down at the computer. Things need to be in order in my mind and in the place where I write. In recent months my life has been topsy-turvy. I have learned to write with utter chaos all around me. I turn to my book with great intensity. Sometimes I may write twelve hours a day. Sometimes I can write only two hours a day.

Q: Do you have any conscious technique that so effectively makes Mitford come alive for people?

A: I grew up in the era of radio. When you turned on the radio, you heard the voices and you filled in all the blanks. Radio helped me become a writer. Television would never help me become a writer. With radio you have to color in everything. What you need to do for readers is give them as much free rein as they can take. Let them participate in the story by building their own imagery.

Q: So conversations and characters bear the burden of telling the story?

A: My books are about relationships. With rare exceptions, the scenes are all one-on-one relationships: Father Tim and Dooley, Father Tim and Cynthia, Father Tim and Emma. There are times when I step away to the Grill where three or four people are in a relationship. Basically, I try not to waste the reader's time with descriptive narrative, details of what people are wearing, how they look, how tall they are.

Q: You seem to have a lot of lovable eccentrics in your books. Are you attracted to unusual people?

A: I see everyone as unusual. Most everyone seems to have an extraordinary life story. "I just love people," was my grandmother's saying. Casting the writer's light on ordinary people makes them appear extraordinary.


The Mitford Years Book I: At Home in Mitford

  1. What role does Barnabas play in Father Tim's life? What other characters seem to invade Father Tim's already busy life, only later to prove enriching elements? Are there any that are a permanent drag on his spirits? How does Father Tim come to terms with them?
  2. Dooley appears on the scene untamed and uninvited. What is it that finally makes Father Tim and Dooley aware that they need each other? How does Dooley contribute to Father Tim's life? Have you had "Dooleys" in your own life?
  3. Choose two of your group members to read the dialogue between Dooley and Puny in the middle of Chapter Seven – the scene where they first meet. How does the dialect differ in your part of the country? Try reading a brief part of a Dooley speech in the dialect of your own region.
  4. Which characters did you dislike at first, only to later come to appreciate or at least understand them? What characters in the book react that way to someone new?
  5. Compare Miss Sadie and Miss Rose. They are very different characters, but both make a powerful contribution to the books. What makes them such vivid characters? What would Mitford be like without them? What unique contributions do they make?
  6. Priests seldom have people they can confide in. Who are Father Tim's confidants? What secrets does he entrust to them? What role does prayer play in giving Father Tim a chance to truly vent his feelings?
  7. "Mitford takes care of its own," says Mayor Cunningham. How does this happen in the book? Is this limited only to small towns? What other types of communities can it take place in?

The Mitford Years Book II: A Light in the Window

  1. Why do Father Tim's deepening feelings for Cynthia frighten him so? What are Father Tim's fears about marrying? Is it a good idea for Father Tim to marry Cynthia? How might Father Tim's marriage to Cynthia enhance his role as a priest? How might it detract from it?
  2. Minor characters are an important part of the Mitford books. Can you name four minor characters? What does one minor character contribute to the fabric of village life in Mitford?
  3. Many people don't like to talk about their faith. Why? Why do you think it is socially permissible to discuss sexual behavior, income, politics, and other highly personal matters, yet discussing one's faith is often discouraged?
  4. Compare Miss Sadie's gift of money to build the nursing home with Edith Mallory's promise of donations to the children's hospital. What is each looking for in return for her gift?
  5. Jan Karon says there are Mitfords all over the country. Do you live in one? If so, why do you think your community is like Mitford? Is Mitford necessarily a small town? Discuss whether it might also be a close neighborhood in a large city.
  6. Have you ever had company like Cousin Meg? How could Father Tim have handled her presence in his house better? How can guests enrich your life? What kind of strain does having guests put on your life?

The Mitford Years Book III: These High, Green Hills

  1. How has Father Tim's marriage influenced or changed his life? How have his relationships with Barnabas, Dooley, and Miss Sadie changed him?
  2. Do Jan Karon's characters remind you of people you know? Have you ever lived next door to a Mitford character? Are you kin to any of the Mitford characters?
  3. Faith in God is clearly a significant part of Father Tim's makeup. How would you describe his faith? What role does prayer play in Father Tim's faith?
  4. The Seven Virtues are: Faith, Hope, Charity, Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice. Choose a character that exemplifies one of these virtues. For example, what virtue do you feel Uncle Billy exemplifies? What about Miss Sadie? Olivia?
  5. What did Father Tim and Cynthia learn about themselves when they were lost in the cave? What did they learn about each other? What did Father Tim learn about his relationship with God? How did understanding and forgiving his father change him?
  6. What gifts did Sadie Baxter give Dooley? Did her bequest surprise you? Why did she choose Dooley?

The Mitford Years Book IV: Out to Canaan

  1. In times of crisis, Father Tim and Cynthia pray "The prayer that never fails." What prayer are they referring to? Why is it a prayer that never fails?
  2. Pauline's growth and redemption is a gradual, step-by-step process. Who helps her? Where does Pauline succeed? Where does she fail?
  3. Father Tim's home is transformed from staid bachelor quarters into a topsy-turvy household. Lace quizzes Harley on his schoolwork in the basement, Dooley pounds up the stairs, Puny cleans with her twins underfoot, Violet the cat balefully eyes Barnabas from atop the refrigerator. How does Father Tim's household compare with your own? Do Jan Karon's descriptions make you view the chaos in your life differently?
  4. The construction boss, Buck Leeper, is a diamond in the rough. In Out to Canaan, what is Buck Leeper feeling? How does he view himself? How do you think he may view others?
  5. Note the ongoing presence of children and the elderly in the Mitford books. How does this enhance these stories? What lessons do they teach Father Tim?
  6. Why does Father Tim have such trouble going to Fancy Skinner, Mitford's unisex hairdresser, for his haircuts? Who does he press into service to cut his hair when he is avoiding her shop? Choose one of your group members to read the monologue by Fancy found toward the end of Chapter Five.
  7. Do you have a Main Street Grill? What function does a place like the Grill fill in a town? Where do you get your town news? Where are you likely to meet friends and neighbors?
  8. Esther Bolick's orange marmalade cake plays a role in each book. What is the specialty in your region? What food item makes an annual event special? Festive? What other object can fill this role?
  9. Describe the ways in which those who come in contact with Father Tim are changed. How does contact with others change Father Tim?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 93 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 93 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2008

    Praiseworthy & Full of Verdure

    Having just finished this third installment of the boxed set, I offer the following assessment: First, I always avoid revealing plots or nuggets about the books I read for reviews and so I'll just stick with generalities here. With some humor, the author paints her unforgettable characters with verve in this novel. Anyone with a warm heart will take delight in this most interesting tale. Blockbuster entertainment? You can bet on that. Breathtaking action? Bet on that too! With a beneficent flair, the author narrates this story with so much depth of meaning and much liveliness of expressions. Not to be sarcastic but, this book would be beneficial, if not outright thought-provoking to the Darwinists out there. In closing, bravo to Jan, for she delivers wholesome and vibrant outlooks on life. Her books are graced with high value for all.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2006


    I would like to start by saying this book is WONDERFUL, however, I was on chapter 3 and seconds away from putting it down, I was thinking 'this is so loose and boring, how could this have gotten a 4 1/2 star rating?' But suddenly I understood everything I had just read. To start I reccomend sitting in a quiet room where you can really focus on the book because if you have never read any of Jan Karon's books you may have a hard time getting 'into' the story. But don't give up! This is a beautifully written, happy, (hardly any sad parts) book that most people can enjoy. But when you go about starting the series DO NOT start with the first book start with this one, finish the series, then go back and read the first two. (A little Star Wars action :) This book really helps you to understand the town and people. I want to live in Mitford along many other Mitford fans!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2002

    Read 'Em ALL!

    I can't say enough about the whole series! I've just finished These high, green hills, and I'm so excites about the start of A Common Life! Mitford is a place everyone could fall in love with. You'll want to tell your friends all about it. I'm amazed at how close it's brought me to the smaller things in life.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2010

    Make this an eBook please!!!

    So disappointed to have just purchased my Nook and not have the complete series available! Have enjoyed reading the other books, but makes no sense that the whole series except for this one book would be available.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2002

    I Want To Live There!

    I love how Jan Karon sweeps you away into another time, another place. Always puts a smile in my heart. So rare to find such uplifting, heartwarming novels.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2013



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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2013


    She padded in.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2013

    Ginger/Drill Boy

    Ginger: well are you ready Drill boy? Drill Boy:im ready for any thing "takes out a soocer ball ready to kick it" Ginger:"pulls out my 2 swords and ninja stars" well wait untail they come we will protect this clan. And fight hollyclaw and her dumb little furr balls.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2013

    Is this clan active?

    If so please go to den and post "yes!" ~Yewbranch.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2013


    Sorry if this already posted, but thanks, and I need a mentor for my daaughter, Toastykit. She is 8 moons old

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2013


    The tiny kit mewls for milk

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2013

    May I join

    Me and my mate Whitestreak want to join. Can we? -Snowfur

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2013


    Ok.... *sees yellowfang*

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2013


    "Leave me alone!!", she growled at Spiritecho.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2013


    He lay on the dusty ground his glazed eyes unseeing. You can see his ribs thruogh his pelt and dried tears on his face. He lay here. Dead. All becaus of a mother who ignored him and refused to feedhim. He used to call to her "cloudy!!! IM hungry!!" But never came. A last hope of his mother still lay on his face..

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2013


    Steps on a twig 'CRACK' which alerts all the other cats.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2013



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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2013


    HAI! In rl i have gotten in trouble. I have no wifi so the awesome charcter Sub that i rp has not been on. He will return soon for he has been a member of this clan for a very long time. I enjoy rping Sub and i will return! I am using a diffrent nook right now to post this. BAI! ~(SUB)~

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  • Posted April 19, 2013

    Dusklock to all- Grounded. Will be for a while. Seeya in maybe a

    Dusklock to all- Grounded. Will be for a while. Seeya in maybe a week.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2013

    Monwave Dswnfire Silvershine

    Whos co leader

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 93 Customer Reviews

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