My wife doesn’t ask for much. She’s usually content in a comfy chair with the latest novel she’s borrowed from the library. She’s a far cry from spoiled.
That might have something to do with all those years she spent pinching pennies to care for our five kids. Lots of coupons, scrimping and thrift-store bargains.
So now, with kids grown, as we settle in to easier times, when she asks for something, I jump. Well, I would jump if I didn’t have a fake knee and an arthritic spine.
Still, I try to make it happen.
Her request seemed totally reasonable. “I wish we could have one of those little libraries,” she said. “You know where people walking by can just take a book, or leave a book.”
Why not? I thought. Sure, I said, mostly because it was around her birthday and I didn’t have a present yet. I also thought it was a cool idea.
I even drew a little picture of how I hoped it would look, put that in a card and promised to build it when we celebrated her birthday. How hard could it be? A little weatherproof box on a pole or a foundation. A hinged door. A sign.
That was 4 1/2 months ago.
The project developed — how do contractors and project managers say this? — a rash of totally unavoidable but impossible-to-predict overruns and delays. At least one could be characterized as Act of God.
Factors that contributed to the delay included “optimism bias” and “scope creep.” The phrase “escalation of commitment” might also apply here.
In simple words, I started with rose-colored glasses instead of my construction goggles and I kept adding bells and whistles in terms of the scope. For example, I recycled as much as possible, including supplies I wanted to reuse that I had on hand. I also reconfigured elements from very-difficult-to-deconstruct pallets.
I also, respectfully, bring God to my defense. I have been sick and been able to work only intermittently, at diminished strength. I’ve gotten so antsy to finish that I’ve resorted to seeking help from Alex, the foreign student from Norway staying with us. But, without actual blueprints or a plan, I tried explaining to Alex the library as I saw it in my mind.
My mind, mind you. Not your typical mind on a good day. Imagine in your mind, my mind, mind you, muddled by painkilling, controlled substances. That previous sentence is an example of what Alex had to try to deal with, in a second language yet.
But, enough with the excuses. The birthday present is coming to fruition. The finishing touches are all that’s left. The library is actually ready to open.
In a matter of hours, we’ll be accepting and giving away books.
All that’s required is for you to meander down East Linwood Street, find the brown box that looks like a log cabin hanging from the tree in front of our house, do your library business, taking a minimal amount of care to close those finely crafted oak-and-ash-and-pine-and-Plexiglas doors in the correct order.
That correct order will be intuitive, I’m sure. Left door first. Then right door. Everyone will get it. I should definitely stop worrying that I’ll be out in front of the house before bed every night in the snow in March in my robe doing a last-minute library check. At least Alex will still be living with us. What’s one more chore for a nice, strong, healthy, stoic Norwegian?
What’s that I hear you saying? Hold on. You need me to back up a sec?
I get it. I figured as such. You have a question. It’s that “hanging in the tree” phrase from a couple sentences ago, right?
No, it’s not a typographical error. Part of that “scope creep” I mentioned earlier was my bright — dare I say brilliant? — and aggressive idea to bring a pun into the project, better yet, “hang” the project on a pun. Get it?
Many of these types of libraries across the nation are called “Free Little Libraries.” Ours is a “Tree Little Library,” a little tree-house for books. It might be the only one of its kind. I figured someone might have thought of the pun before me and built a library in a tree but I couldn’t find one on Google. Nope, not Advanced Google either.
OK. Question for millennials out there. Does that mean it’s a really good idea? Or, a really dumb one?
Hold on again. I need to stop here. I need to explain something else about this pun. But, first I have to shoo away my wife. I need to share this in private.
OK, she’s back in the comfy chair with her book. Here’s the deal: I wanted to make the sign say “Free Little Library” but then literally cross out the “F” and insert a “T” above it. You know, so the “Free-Tree” pun is more obvious. That works better, right? That’s cool, right?
I was overruled. The only real explanation I got was “That’s stupid.”
Ah well, whaddyagonnado? It’s her present.
Actually, I hope it’s the neighborhood’s present. We live on a street with a physical makeup that does not encourage a lot of neighbor interaction. Garage doors go up. People drive in. Fences surround backyards, and there’s no common, natural gathering place in front of our homes, near the street, except for Oak Grove Park that’s several blocks away.
I’ve met and talked to more neighbors in the past few weeks than in the seven-or-so years we’ve lived on the block. Of course, that could have something to do with that big ol’ box in the tree for months for no apparent reason.
Folks have been stopping by to ask, nicely, what the heck I’m building. Almost to a person, they also ask about an incident a couple months back, when the pre-library box suddenly and rudely became a display case for a full-sized toilet.
(Brothers-in-law visited. What can I say? They saw an opportunity.)
Before building the library, my wife and I didn’t tell our kids or my coworkers at the News-Leader our specific goal. But I sent them some photos early on in construction, asking if anyone could guess what I was building.
Bizarre, year-round Christmas decoration? Rabbit hutch?
One of the stranger kid guesses: A monument where we would store our old family dog’s ashes. Another guess was a house for the Norwegian if he misbehaves.
A guillotine for nasty squirrels? “Wait,” one kid said. “I know. I know. Mom and dad are going to start raising rabbits and sell them for food in front of the house, right?”
No, no, and more no. None of the above.
Just a punny library.
Why? some asked upon hearing the actual plan. In the words of my wife, who is always more succinct than I: “Because I love books, everybody should love books.”
Springfield’s sixth free outdoor little library is soon open for business in the friendly, tree-graced Oak Grove neighborhood, in front of the Iseman house at 2907 E. Linwood.