Schmaltzy Hallmark messages like "May the cheer of the holidays warm you and yours through the season" just didn't capture Tom Palmer's heart when he was composing a holiday message for his neighbor.
Instead, the Hanover County construction contractor took a more direct route to express his feelings: "Mind your own business."
It's short and sweet and certainly festive, at least when painted on the side of a barn and festooned with a halo of jolly holiday lights.
The dispute, Palmer says, grew from the neighbor's accusation that he is running his contracting business out of his garage.
"[My neighbor] keeps calling the planning commission on me they've been out here five times," Palmer says. That's in addition to building inspectors and representatives of Hanover's fire, police and health departments.
"So I just put up this little note for him," Palmer says, lifting a late-afternoon beer-can salute last week in the general direction of his neighbor's house.
As for the neighbor, who asked to be called only Walter, he's taking Palmer's Yuletide "up yours" in stride. "It doesn't bother me at all," he says, admitting to calling the planning commission, but not to Palmer's other suspicions.
Walter says his complaint as with any investigative follow-up the county might do is valid. Both homes are located in the Ralaigh Thomasson neighborhood, he says, unfolding an old county plat showing the area was subdivided in 1969. Most localities restrict businesses such as Palmer's from operating in residential areas.
Pre-dawn loading and unloading of heavy equipment including the occasional backhoe is the crux of Walter's complaint. "[Palmer] wakes us up every morning," he says, complaining that he and his wife, both in their late 70s, deserve a few extra Zs in their retirement.
Meanwhile, "Mind your own business" has become the talk of the town among drivers who've seen it on Blanton Road near Patrick Henry High School. Some slow down to shout the message at Palmer or Walter or whoever happens to be in the yard as they pass.
"My wife asked me when I was going to take it down, and I said as soon as I got it in the paper," Palmer says. So is this it?
"Naw, I'm going to decorate it with hearts on Valentine's Day and shamrocks on St. Patrick's," he says. S