Well, you don't actually steal it, but you can help yourself. At a "Little Free Library," that is.
I'd heard of these tiny outdoor libraries-in-a-box before, but an article in a local magazine about them mentioned that there are two around here, so I had to go see it. Even better, I rounded up a half-dozen books to donate, since there are only a few thousand lying around at our casa.
The backstory is that in 2009, one Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin built a model of a one-room schoolhouse small enough to rest on a post as a tribute to his mother, a former teacher and a big reader, and filled it with books and placed it in his front yard with a sign reading FREE BOOKS for anyone to borrow from. Sort of like the penny cup on the counter of a store, you take one or more when you need to and put one or more back in when you can. He made several more to give to interested neighbors, and still makes them to send much farther away today, using recycled materials like the wood from a barn demolished by a tornado.
So a lady named Lois decided to become a L.F.L. "steward" (#10725, to be precise) and have one at her home in Mechanicsburg, set in front of her expansive and lush back-yard garden, like so:
I found room for my donations, and took out one by Ian McEwan, who writes some wicked mysteries with a jaundiced eye to the motivations, and bad behavior of, humanity. Nancy got one of the yellow tomatoes. So Lois and the more cynical Mr. McEwan represent very different approaches to life, mmm?
Initially, the goal was to have as many of these miniature libraries worldwide as the 2,509 free public ones established by Andrew Carnegie, but as of the beginning of this year, there are 15,000 of them. Next time we're back in town, I'll try to remember to return the one I picked up. Maybe it will still be tomato season.
We had another destination a few miles away later in the day. My grandparents' former home site was being auctioned off by the heirs of the last owner, who was the widow next door. My brothers and I had sold the then-existing house to her after a not very successful experience renting it out, and she wanted it for her daughter to move into. I guess its maintenance proved too much for her, too, and sometime in the past ten years she had the house demolished. The garage, which did not have moisture and other problems, still stood and housed her son's two tractors. It was one of those sad but inevitable things that transpired, as first the widow's household items were sold, then her house and 3-acre lot, and finally our grandparents' former property (one acre). There wasn't much interest in the real estate, and a sole bidder got the first for $100,000 and the second for only $32,000.
The area is now zoned commercial/industrial, so with the house now gone, I don't think one can be rebuilt there. We'll keep an eye out for developments, but won't be walking on that long green lot again. I covered it all, remembering what had been there, and what remained. The cherry, pear and apple trees were long gone, I already knew, but the horse chestnut planted around 1960 was huge and healthy. The outlines of the large but long-gone garden were visible if you knew where to look.
A quote from W. H. Auden at the beginning of the book I picked up at the LFL box said it all:
"The friends who met here and embraced are gone..."