It’s been several years ago now since my husband and I searched through the sales floor of our local Habitat for Humanity Restore for a used kitchen cupboard.
My husband transformed the standard maple cupboard door into one with a sealed plexiglass window. He bolted this unit to a post set in concrete in our front yard, with its own personal little roof as shelter from the rain. The post is set beside the road, in the shade of a big oak.
Voila! My mother’s birthday present.
A big part of the birthday present was anticipation. Mama’s mystification about our on-going project and her delight in the final result are described in detail in the pages of Little Libraries, Big Hearts. She said it was the best birthday present she’d ever received.
Mama was a dedicated steward of her new Little Free Library.
Later we added a tub of flowers, a bench (one of Mama’s yard scale scores), a granite-slabbed surround so patrons wouldn’t get their shoes muddy, and a stainless-steel dog water bowl ($1 at Diversity Thrift).
Mama took pride in stocking the shelves of her library. She checked it every day. She kept a pen and pad inside and glowed whenever anyone wrote a compliment. She was discriminating in her choice of books — no supermarket pulp for her OR her library. She removed books with bodice buster covers or bare chested Scotsmen. Her LFL offered a selection of acknowledged literature and contemporary books people were talking about, often hardbound. Even the children’s books on the bottom shelf were nice ones.
Mama’s hunting forays in the wilds of thrift stores and yard sale bagged her good books in good shape — cheap. She found sales in thrift stores, but she was most successful in situations where personality could be used as currency. She’d ladle the charm on the sellers and walk off with a box of donated hardbacks which the previous owners would load in her trunk themselves, all the while thanking her for find a home for their old books.
Mama wasn’t above using her terminal cancer diagnosis to wheedle a 50% discount off an already low price from a gentleman in charge of the book tables at a big rummage sale. The organization sponsoring the yard sale shall remain unnamed — but their members have tender hearts.
She wasn’t kidding about the cancer. It did kill her. She was only eighty-five and I thought she had at least another ten years of thrifting in her.
Yesterday I heard a car pull up in front of the house. It had an Avon sign on the side but the driver didn’t knock on my door. She only got out of the car to visit Mama’s Little Free Library. She left with books so I guess she wasn’t disappointed in the selection. Mama would have been though.
You see, in the years since Mama died, I’ve tended LFL #3966. I clean the cobwebs, sweep oak leaves and twigs off the roof, put out fresh water in the dog dish (and watch the squirrels sip from it throughout the day) and pull the occasional weed from between the patio stones.
As for stocking the shelves? Mostly, I let the neighborhood do that. Occasionally some well-meaning soul donates so many books at once that they fill the shelves with double rows and the door won’t even close. Or they leave a box or bag of books on my front steps. But usually, it works the way it’s intended to work. One person takes a book or two. Another person leaves a book or five.
When the bottom shelf is looking bare, an appeal for children’s books on the Nextdoor site will see the shelf full again within a week or so. People are generous.
Was Mama trying to elevate the literary tastes of the neighborhood or was she showing off her own preferences? She had many patrons for her library so her choices were obviously appreciated.
But I’m not choosing books, only sorting. I cull textbooks, spotted or musty books, out-dated books. If I removed lurid romance novels or cute cozy mysteries the shelves would be bare. Mama would remove political or religious books, but I don’t — unless they don’t travel on by themselves. Any book that sticks around too long gets pulled. Now the shelves hold James Patterson and Jane Feather and Nora Roberts and Clive Cussler. Sometimes even the disdained Silhouette Romances! Mama would be appalled! LFL #3966 seems to have patrons. Perhaps they are different patrons than Mama had?
I have plans to obtain “better” books, books in keeping with Mama’s original vision. There’s a used book store fairly new to town that has boxes of free books outside for the taking, or so I’ve been told. Mama would have been over there the first day she heard about it and I’ll be going soon — not today, I’m busy today — any day now, really, and see what I can find.
In the meantime, LFL #3966 circulates books that someone, or a number of someones, like just fine. Even if we don’t meet Mama’s high standards.