When I was a boy, there were three things I went into my sister’s room to steal.
First were T-shirts. My sister Laura, three years older than me, kept a couple drawers full of them in her closet and I would rifle through them anytime I got bored with mine and wanted something new. Hard Rock Café and Vuarnet France finds were like gold, and occasionally I’d settle for the faded black Myrtle Beach Polo Club one. I loved to rock those shirts on the rare, coveted out-of-uniform days at our parochial grade school.
Second were magazines. I don’t remember if my sister had subscriptions to Teen Beat, Teen and Seventeen, or if she just bought them off the rack at our local SupeRx. But I know I owe my terrible taste in pop music and knowledge of cheesy 80s movies and TV shows to one too many articles about NKOTB, Fred Savage and the dreamy Kirk Cameron.
Finally, there were books. Laura was a voracious reader and had a bookcase lined with Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume and Ann M. Martin—everything a teenage girl needed. And, as it turns out, everything a pre-teenage boy didn’t know he needed. I learned way too much way too early, sprawled out on the carpeted floor of her room when she wasn’t there, reading books like Forever and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
If you asked Age 11 Dom his favorite book series, he dutifully would have answered, The Hardy Boys or Matt Christopher’s line of youth sports books. And that would have been a lie. In reality, it was The Babysitters Club. I devoured every single edition of TBC, often finishing them before my sister did. I remember having to be very careful putting them back on her bookcase, the bindings meticulously lined up in order, lest my secret be discovered.
I’ve been thinking about my sister and books a lot lately. On Sunday, May 15, the day Laura would have turned 40, my parents are dedicating a Little Free Library to her memory. It’s going to be right off a walking path in the Nashville suburb of Bellevue, in a sweet little neighborhood not far from where we were raised.
For the past six years, on the anniversary of her death in September and again on her birthday in May, my parents host a ceremony to remember Laura’s life. Family and friends turn out, stories are shared and tears are shed. When my wife and I can’t make it in from California, we take our son to the beach and let off balloons in memory of the aunt he never met. It’s cathartic for those who knew and loved my sister, a continuation of the grieving process.
This year, we’re turning the grief into good with the library. Little Free Libraries work like this: you erect the small, wooden structure (not unlike a birdhouse) in a place that gets foot traffic and passers-by are free to grab a book or drop one off. If the library ever runs low, the owner simply replenishes with more books.
Books were a central theme in Laura’s life. In addition to memories of my childhood thievery, I remember her joyfully reading Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss to her fellow Father Ryan graduates at the Baccalaureate Mass for the Class of 1994. And when my wife and I moved to Brooklyn a few years ago, my sister, a schoolteacher, squealed with delight when she found out we were living in Park Slope. “That’s where the guy who wrote Knuffle Bunny lives!” she exclaimed.
Then there’s the time my wife Danny found an inscription on a book that we grabbed from a box of Laura’s things after she passed. Danny beautifully captured that story here. Grab the Kleenex before you click that link.
We sent a copy of that book, Don’t Be Silly, Mrs. Millie, to be included in the Little Free Library’s first offerings. We also sent a copy of Carry On, Warrior, because nobody embraced a beautiful, messy life like Laura. And her best friend from high school shipped a copy of Giraffes Can’t Dance for inclusion; she remembered Laura recommending that book to her when she became a mom.
Nothing would have made Laura happier than a free neighborhood library full of books about kids, messy lives and dancing. My sister never knew how her books guided me in my youth and she won’t see the impact her Little Free Library will make on others. But we’ll fill it with the things we loved about her and hope others will read between the lines.
Got a book you’d like to donate? Message me and we’ll make it happen.