by Gideon Pellegrino
The December air greeted me as I stepped out of the car. As I walked towards the door, a sight of a candle-light service could be seen through the windows of the little white church. It was about five years ago on the Sunday before Christmas that I met him.
He was sitting in a chair at the front of the church by a manger display, reading the Christmas story aloud. His figure was tall and slim and he was wearing a button-up shirt, blue jeans, and farm boots. I have never seen him wear anything different. I sat down and listened… the sound of his kind voice hummed in my ears, and the sight of the sweet twinkle in his dark-brown eyes made my heart happy.
To anyone reading, this is only a glimpse of the life of a man I have come to know and love. To any one reading…. I introduce to you, Don Bilyeu.
I have known Don for a while now so sitting down with him for an interview was more like sitting down for just a regular Sunday afternoon chat. I pulled out a chair and got my stuff ready as he washed his hands (he’d just come in from choring). Don’s wife, Shirley, got me a glass of water and made some coffee as I petted their cat.
Their house is the cozy type. It’s the kind of house that you walk in and instantly feel at home. There are pictures of family members young and old on the walls and on the fireplace mantle. My favorite — a black-and-white photograph of the big oak tree in their front yard — is above the couch.
West of the house is a big barn with horses and cows. I look out the dining room window while Don pours himself a cup of coffee. There is a small farm pond I had never noticed before.
Don sits down with a smile and a chuckle and says, “Now… Would you like me to tell you the truth?”
“Yes, that would be nice!” I laugh. And so then, the truth is where Don’s story begins.
It all started on Bull Creek, in Taney County Missouri, where he grew up. Don’s parents, Ralph and Lola Bilyeu, had a boy before Don, named Loren, when they were in their early 20s.
Loren died from dysentery when he was around two years and is buried in Cupp’s Cemetery in Taney County, Missouri. The couple didn’t have another child until they were much older. Don was born in 1938 and grew up a country boy, playing and fishing in Bull Creek and helping his parents farm.
“I’ll never forget when I was a boy,” he chuckles, “Me and my cousin had rode our horses down Bull Creek and there was a drill well there but back then it wasn’t nothing but 30-40 foot deep but it was still a good well. And there was a little ole rope and a can to dip water out with and we decided to stop and get us a drink.
“We drank it and one of us happened to notice some hair in that cup and we thought… ehhhh that’s not good. But we had already drank it you know? Well he had on a belt with a shiny buckle on it and the sun was shining bright so he took that belt off and used the reflection to where he could shine that down in that well and there was a dead ‘possum floating on top of the water. The water tasted just fine to us and you know that possum was on the top of the water so we had to of just dipped right off the top of it but neither one of us got sick!”
[Don Bilyeu continued below]