The gift that keeps on giving: Grandmother gives the gift of reading
Susan Christmas enjoys sitting on her porch in the morning and seeing her neighborhood come to life—hearing the trains, listening to the birds.
One of the first tasks of her day involves visiting the Little Library in her front yard, where families can pick up free books for all ages.
“It’s just a dream I had,” said Christmas, a retired nurse practitioner. “I don’t want or need anything.
“For my birthday, if anybody wants to give me anything, they can give me books,” she told herself last fall. “I’m going to make this a birthday present to myself, and it has been like the birthday present that gives to me every day as I sit out on the porch and watch these children and adults get these books.”
Families walking with children or dogs through the neighborhood are welcome to help themselves to the books inside the Little Library located at the corner of N. Miller Street and West Church Street near downtown Greer.
“I hope that nothing ever replaces a book,” Christmas said. “There’s just something special to me about it.”
“I’m so happy I’m giving the opportunity for these people, especially these children to get a book in their hands,” she said.
The Little Library, which is registered internationally, is designed larger than most with two stories resembling Christmas’ yellow house.
“Yesterday, this little boy picked out a book, and he was just skipping down the sidewalk, ‘look what book I got,’” Christmas said. “He was so excited about the book that he found.”
“I want to instill that joy of reading into children because if you don’t read well, if you can’t at least read at some level, you’re going to miss out and not get as far in your life, and have the experiences or the job or the educational opportunity that you can potentially have,” she said. “Instilling a joy in reading can lead to so much more opportunity down the road.”
Building a dream
Christmas discovered the Little Library idea when she lived in Denver, Colorado, for a time where her neighborhood had one every two or three blocks.
“I started researching it,” Christmas said. “It was my 63rd birthday present to myself. I started saving to be able to afford to build it.”
Christmas posted about the project last year on the Next Door neighborhood app, looking for help in constructing her own Little Library, and a friend recommended her husband, Nick Hayes.
“I was really fortunate,” Christmas said.
“He was so excited about it,” Christmas said. “I told him that I wanted to keep my budget under $300. He works in wood. He volunteered to build it just at cost. He really thought it was a good idea.”
Hayes worked with Christmas to build the post, two story house, tiny shingles and the whole project for $250.
“That was a blessing that he was able to get it as big as I wanted it and keep it within budget,” Christmas said. “He was hoping we could get it up before he moved.”
Hayes, who lived in Greer at the time, ended up moving to North Carolina the week before the library was put up but returned to help with the setup a couple months ago in February, and Christmas’ daughter and one of her grandchildren joined that first day also.
“It’s a big little library,” Christmas said. “They’re usually smaller; I designed it rather large. It looks like my house. It’s yellow and two story like my house.”
“I get a lot of business to it now that families are taking their children for a walk,” she said. “It has two levels. The top is adults, and the bottom is babies to teens. I get donations left on my porch all the time. It was something I really wanted to do.”
Keeping it clean
With the onset of the virus in March, Christmas has posted signs about how she is cleaning the collection.
“I have signs on both sides and on the inside door about how I take donations, please don’t put them in the box, leave them on the porch and I let them sit for 24 hours; then, I wipe them down,” Christmas said. “I go out every morning early—because I’m one of those people who wakes before 6 o’clock—and wipe down with bleach water the outside of it and the inside and every evening.”
“I’m a retired nurse practitioner, so I’m very particular about things being clean anyway,” she said. “Lately, since people have seen that and more people are out walking, I sit on my porch a lot, so I talk to people about what I do. I’m getting a lot more response.”
Anyone is invited to take a book any time or to leave a donation on the porch.
“People can come and take a book any time they want,” Christmas said. “They can return it or not return it. They can drop off books to be donated.”
“It’s free, and I’m the custodian of the library,” she said.
Christmas has also talked with the Greer city staff about the possibility of installing a Little Library at the downtown park.
“It’d be a great place,” Christmas said, noting the walking and children areas.
“It’s there for the community,” she said of her own library. “I’m trying to get some flowers around it. It has a bench beside it with a dog hook on it. I get a lot of dog walkers in this neighborhood; they can hook their dogs if they want to sit down a minute, so I’m starting to do a little of the cosmetic stuff to it.”
Discovering a location
Little Libraries, started by one Wisconsin man in 2009 as a tribute to his mother, can now be found around the country and in more than 100 countries around the world.
“I was traveling through Gatlinburg back in the fall, and there was one while I was walking around at this little church,” Christmas said, noting how some people seek out the more than 100,000 Little Libraries around the globe as they travel.
“I thought it was good too because I’m going to be so close, just a block away, from the new hotel,” she said of hers near downtown Greer, where a new hotel is under construction at the corner of N. Main and Jason streets.
“If there is someone staying at the hotel who wants a book and they’re familiar with that, they can walk a block and get a book from my little library.”
Christmas also noted a bed and breakfast across the street from her on Church Street.
“If people are staying there, they can do the same thing,” Christmas said.
Keeping it stocked
Christmas has been collecting books for about nine months.
“My whole dining room is taken over with all kinds of books and magazines,” Christmas said. “I’m a member of the Greer residents in the Next Door downtown Greer, and I’ve just put the word out that if people have donations, they leave them on my porch.”
“I make sure they’re clean and they’re in a good condition, wipe the outsides down, let them sit in my house for at least 24 hours with all this going on right now before I actually go out every morning and put them on the shelf,” she said. “I have all different genres from board baby books up to adult novels, a lot of biographies, histories, all types of things.”
Christmas goes out twice a day to check the books.
“If I see that certain books haven’t turned over, then I’ll take them down and put out something else for a while, kind of keep track of which ones are being used,” Christmas said.
“I get a lot of activity from the babies up to particularly the pre-teens, 10-12 year olds,” she said. “I get a lot of that from the community that walks by, so I’m always in need of those kinds of books.”
Now, Christmas accepts donations left on her porch, but for the first collection set out, she bought a lot of books at the Goodwill Clearance Center on Haywood.
“They sell books really cheap by the pound, so I bought a lot of books from there last year when I was in the planning stages to seed it and get it started,” Christmas said, also noting donations from family and friends. “I’ve got a pretty good collection right now.”
Books include self help and meditation books.
“I don’t put offensive material in there, anything I think would offend anybody,” Christmas said. “It’s geared a lot towards families and retired people that live in this community.”
Some people have started putting other items, such as hand sanitizer, cat food, masks and other items in Little Libraries.
“That is always an option,” Christmas said. “I have left small puzzles, activity books, coloring books. If I got donations of crayons, I could put those in there. I’m flexible with that.”
“Those little puzzles, little tins of puzzles, those flew out of there,” she said. “The kids loved those. I can take donations of a lot of different things.”
Retiring in Greer
Born in Greenville, SC, in 1956, Christmas moved back to Greer about a year and a half ago after living in the Upstate as a child when her dad coached football at Byrnes High School in the 60s.
“My grandparents and parents all were from here,” Christmas said.
Her parents attended Furman University, and her dad became the Principal at Reidville Elementary before Christmas’ family moved to Knoxville, TN, when she was eight years old. Later, Christmas attended Greenville Tech for a time, finished college and started working.
“I retired a little early,” Christmas said. “I was working for a service organization that was moving me around.”
Christmas lived in Jacksonville, FL; Columbia, SC; and Greenville, SC, before retiring to Greer.
“It’s a great location for me because I have grandchildren right outside of Savannah,” Christmas said, also listing her mom and sister in Knoxville and her brother in Boone. “It puts me in a good location. I really like it here.”
“Greenville has grown,” she said. “It has grown so much, but, Greer, when I sit on my porch, 8 o’clock at night, I feel like I’m in this little community way out in the middle of nowhere. The sidewalks roll up, I say. It’s really a cute, little neighborhood to sit out on the porch in the morning and see it come to life and hear the train at 6 o’clock. I love that sound and the birds.”
Christmas shared how she sits out in the evening as well and sees people walking with their families.
“Then, at 9 o’clock, it’s quiet,” Christmas said. “I’m right here between Greenville and Spartanburg, but I feel like I’m in this little community out in the country. I really like that. That’s something special about Greer.”
For more information about Little Libraries, visit littlefreelibrary.org.
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