Sometimes I Steal From My Neighbors

STEAL: to take the property of another wrongfully and especially as a habitual or regular practice; to come or go secretly, unobtrusively, gradually, or unexpectedly

In some circles, the neighbor across the street would be labeled nosy.  I consider him knowledgeable.  He knows who is remodeling, who just lowered their interest rate, what each property is paying in taxes, where each family is going on vacation this year, and where the neighborhood cat is living this week.  He is home during the day and keeps an eye on the comings and goings on our block.  Recently, he crossed the street to tell me that he had seen someone harvesting a bag full of rhubarb from our planting strip while we were away.  He assumed it was a friend.  I told him I didn’t think so, but that I hoped the person made something delicious.  He seemed surprised by my laissez-faire attitude.

It’s not kindness; it’s karma.  You see, I have used others’ yards as buffets myself.

I got the idea at a funeral.  Jane was famous for the beautiful holiday centerpieces she made each year and distributed as gifts.  During the eulogies, several friends shared about gathering the greenery for the centerpieces with Jane.  Turns out Jane would scout out ideal holly bushes, fir trees, and cedar boughs in the fall and then drive around the neighborhood to harvest the supplies for the centerpieces.  Those beloved centerpieces were made from stolen goods!  But the stories about the harvesting expeditions were told without an ounce of regret or remorse; the stories were filled with such tremendous joy that it made stealing sound admirable.

Greenery was my gateway drug.  In Jane’s honor, my mom and I gathered greenery from sleeping homeowners each holiday season to make our own centerpieces in the years that followed.

In college, I became a pusher.  I took my roommate on a harvesting run to deck our rented apartment halls.  Not yet acquainted with a life of crime, she was more hesitant to help herself to strangers’ landscaping.  She stayed in the car with the engine running in case a quick get-away became necessary.

It didn’t stop with cedar, fir, and holly.  I moved on to tougher things like rosemary.  I don’t like how untidy and large rosemary bushes grow, so I do not have them in my yard.  But, I am happy that others tolerate their size and unruliness.  A snip here and there on a walk through the neighborhood provides the sprigs needed for a recipe.  And, concealing the sprigs in my pockets leaves my fleece with a lovely earthy aroma.

Motherhood has made me more aware of the example I’m setting.  These days, I’m mostly a social stealer.  When possible, I ask before I harvest.  I actually have a regular rosemary supplier now.  One of our other neighbors has a lovely rosemary bush that she allows me to harvest.  It’s much better than strolling around the block casually with scissors in my pocket.

But occasionally, I still embrace the “better to ask forgiveness than permission” philosophy.  Like last week when I was making blueberry syrup.   Part way through simmering, I noticed a recipe variation for blueberry-lavender syrup.  Alas, I did not have the 2/3 cup of fresh lavender blossoms required to make the superior syrup.  So, I returned to my wayward ways.  I grabbed my scissors and metal measuring cup (subtle!) and headed out of the house.  I helped myself to lavender from a house with an empty driveway – trying my best to spread out the stolen blossoms to avoid giving the plant a noticeable bald spot.

The results were (sinfully) delicious.

To the mystery rhubarb thief I say, “Use it well, my sister in crime.  Use it well.”

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6 thoughts on “Sometimes I Steal From My Neighbors

  1. Loved this post! And my own confession: Many moons ago, I took a big bag of crabapples from under a tree at a nearby church, in order to make crabapple jelly. Even though I knew nobody would use the fruit but the local squirrels, I actually phoned the church afterwards and asked retroactive permission! I love the thought of you furtively skulking around the ‘hood with scissors and a measuring cup. If you’re ever in Toronto, feel free to hit my property any time! 🙂

  2. When I was little we use to steal fruit from our neighbor’s trees. There were plums and pears and apples. The walk home from school was ALWAYS filling.

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