LFL #3966

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.



Thrifting is in my Blood


            I was a second generation thrift store clerk.

Goodwill Industries was an angel for my mother. After a suicide attempt, Mama was afforded a long, leisurely rest at the state hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Once she regained her strength, she remained there but took the bus from the hospital gates to a Goodwill store for “training”.

Mama loved working at Goodwill. There was always something new to look at and interesting people to meet. She made friends with some of the regular customers and got to know what they were looking for. Old postcards? Vintage dolls? Gold jewelry? Sometimes she’d set back and hold small items for her favorite customers.

When Mama’s Goodwill location was scheduled to shut down, a few of those customers offered to serve as references for Mama in her search for a new job. Because of them, she landed a position as a copy clerk at a research facility that paid well enough that she could afford her own place. (And she stayed long enough to get a pension.)

Mama not only worked at Goodwill, she shopped there. And even after she changed jobs, she continued to “thrift.” She appreciated nice things and, thanks to thrifting, she surrounded herself with them. And she bought things for others.

My infant daughter had LOTS of clothes. Except for a few special outfits I stitched up for her, and her underwear and shoes, almost everything she wore came from Goodwill or from the yard sales Mama tracked down every weekend.           

After Mama retired, she moved from Columbus to live near us in Virginia Beach. She had a tiny house of her own that had once been the servant’s quarters behind a summer cottage. She quickly found the best thrift stores at the Beach and furnished her place with her finds. Her walls were covered in framed pictures of all varieties, whatever appealed to her. And if something else appealed to her the next month, she’d switch out the artwork.

I came to depend on Mama’s shopping prowess. I was often flat on my back — the volatile weather at the ocean front aggravated my CFIDS/SEID — and I didn’t have much energy left for tramping around in stores. The grocery was often too much for me, thank you. But if I wanted a bathrobe, or a black cotton cardigan, I would just tell my mother. She accepted each request as a personal challenge, like a quest! It might take her months, but she’d find whatever I’d asked for.

All her friends ( and some of mine) were envious. How did she ever find that perfect Liz Claiborne dress? And she paid how much for this tea-kettle? She was SO LUCKY!

And let’s take a look at Mama’s luck. Her luck worked like this: she went thrifting often and knew which stores had good stuff and reasonable prices. She checked the yard sales in the newspaper and mapped out a route to ones that looked promising. She took her time. She bargained. She was charming.

I remember the first time I drove Mama to my favorite thrift store in Virginia Beach. After thirty minutes, I was ready to leave. Mama? “But I haven’t seen everything yet!” And she did mean everything. I bought a paperback (it turned out to be a gay romance, the first one I’d ever seen — I didn’t know such things existed!) and sat down to read. I was halfway through that book before Mama was satisfied that she hadn’t missed anything. She had carefully looked at each and every blouse, skirt, dress, etc. in the store, sliding hangers across the racks one by one.

She was just as thorough at yard sales. She’d size up the offerings and quickly check out the prices. She wouldn’t waste time with people who weren’t serious about getting rid of things. But if they were, she’d look at everything. She’d spend so much time at some yard sales, she and the sellers were old friends by the time she handed over her cash. She’d come home and tell me their life stories.

Thrift shops, estate sales, consignment stores, rummage sales, church sales, flea markets, library sales, etc.– Mama could be found wherever bargains were waiting. She bought clothes and art and furniture and rugs and dishes — and lots of books.

Mama loved to read. And she loved to read to her granddaughter. She bought my little girl countless used books which were, eventually, passed along to three younger brothers. We still have some of those books.

And that is how I came to be reading Mark Alan Stamaty’s Who Needs Donuts? to my grandson Atticus this afternoon. At the end of the book, Atticus turned back to the page where Sam sits in the grass. He pointed out Mr. Bickford and the tiny giraffes and other creatures almost concealed within the myriad individual blades of grass. This marvelous book was another of my mother’s “lucky” finds.

What wonderful thrift store purchase is your favorite find?