The story of the Little Free Library that was vandalized recently in Queen Anne is not just that. It’s a story about a veteran’s life, his wife’s endeavor to honor his spirit and a community coming together.
Seattle’s first-ever Little Free Library is on Second Avenue West in Queen Anne, and on June 26, a vandal tore off the message cabinet and stole the notebook.
Michelle Nash created the library in honor of her late husband, Bob Nash. She installed it on April 20, 2012 — what would have been their 43rd wedding anniversary.
It took Nash about a month to build the library. And from the beginning, it was a community effort. She used scrap cedar shingles from her neighbors’ remodel to cover the box. An old picture frame borders the window full of books. She found the wood posts in an alley near her house and found a local construction worker to help her cut them.
It’s decorated with trees she bought at an auction, to add a little Pacific Northwest decor, and three dragonflies — one for herself, Bob and their daughter.
A plaque on the side reads, “In loving memory of Bob Nash, who walked with grace and dignity and showed me the way.”
“It’s more than just this little box that has books in it,” she said. “It has generated whole discussions with people. It’s rewarding for me and overwhelming.”
Honoring Bob’s curious nature
Bob was a Vietnam War veteran who suffered a spinal injury in the war. Michelle worked part-time for a local library and spent the rest of her day with him. Together, they shared books, ideas and quotes.
He had a quote that he always carried in his wallet, which he read to her when they first met. It was the same quote that he left on a tape before he took his own life.
“It was both the beginning and the end,” she said.
As a paraplegic, Bob didn’t have it easy, but toward the end, he developed Parkinson’s disease, which caused hallucinations — a symptom Michelle believes triggered his suicide.
When Bob passed away, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) denied Michelle her widow’s benefits; she had to fight for 10 months to get them. She’s still fighting another battle: to get his name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
In the meantime, her Little Free Library was her way to honor his curiosity and spirit.
To Michelle, libraries have been near and dear, ever since she was first allowed to ride her bike to the library. She loves the kids who get excited about the Little Free Library’s books — they’re blown away that they get to keep it.
“Who would have imagined?” she said. “It’s such a simple thing.”
So it hit Michelle hard when a vandal ripped off the library’s message box. Inside the box, she kept a notebook for people to leave messages — that was stolen. She hopes someone may see the notebook around the neighborhood and return it to her.
The notebook itself holds no value, but it’s the messages Michelle wants. This was the library’s fourth notebook; she has kept them all. People will write messages about which book they selected or say things like, “Bob must have been an amazing guy. I wish I’d known him,” or “What a great thing to have in neighborhood.” Kids will often draw a picture.
On July 6, Michelle installed a new message box and notebook. Soon after, someone wrote something on the cover of the notebook that she had to cut off because its meaning could be misinterpreted. She plans to monitor the library more closely than she has in the past.
The community’s library
Recently, a neighbor brought a donation to Michelle. Every week, Red Square Yoga in Queen Anne has a donation-only class on Saturdays that collects money for a local charity or organization. One class collected money for Michelle to buy books for her Little Free Library at the Queen Anne Book Co.
Stacy Lawson, owner of Red Square Yoga, said the story of the vandalism “pulled at me.” Lawson uses Little Free Libraries herself. This donation was the studio’s way of helping and creating goodwill.
“We really want this person to know what she’s doing is really amazing,” Lawson said. “This is someone who’s doing something for the community; it really adds value.”
Michelle has a suspicion that the vandal may be a young kid from the neighborhood, so she went to the bookstore and bought young-adult books for boys.
“The ripples of good will just keep going on,” she said of the donation.
Michelle will continue to maintain the Little Free Library “forever.” She loves to hunt for books to add to it, and it’s not just about her or Bob’s memory anymore — it has become the community’s library.
There are many Little Free Libraries on Queen Anne, Michelle said, “but some people are affectionately tied to mine, and I am so grateful that they are.
“It started out as a memorial to Bob and just became so much more,” she said. “I think he’d be pleased.”
To comment on this story, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.