I was sitting on my porch on a lovely summer morning knitting torn T-shirts into rugs. The phone rang, as it inevitably does, and I went inside to answer. One thing led to another, but eventually I headed back outside.

There was my pile of shirts. There, my scissors. There, my rug in progress. But the needles were gone. It took a little while to process this, but it was so.

Well! Shock quickly turned into a towering snit and then into a tirade about the general decline of all things good in this town.

Eventually, though, reason clicked in. Knitting needles - even very nice, very large wooden ones - are not terribly easy to fence. Knitters are not, as a class, prone to larceny. So - who? why?

Then I knew. There is a woman of a certain age who spends much of her time wandering around town. She is confused, without a doubt, but just how confused is open to debate. Once she asked me for a drink of water, then stole a tomato plant from my porch while I went to get it. Another time I found her walking up the street with an armload of toy tanks and a basil plant - also from my porch. When I confronted her about that, she replied, "Oh, I thought the house was empty." Later that day, she gave me an envelope with a lengthy handwritten apology and five dollars. She did not hesitate to take the money back when I offered it.

Obviously, I needed a subtle approach. I put a note on the porch asking whoever took the needles to replace them. Next day, there she was, reading it. "Hi," I said. She was all wide-eyed indignation. "I saw those needles. Can you imagine?"

I shrugged. She stood a while. "You know," she told me, "sometimes people take things and don't even use them. They just leave them somewhere."

"Can you imagine?"

"Yeah, I walk a lot. You would be surprised what I see."

"Goodness. Well, would you keep an eye out for my knitting needles?"

Two hours later she was back, with the needles neatly rubber-banded together.

"Oh!" I said, ever articulate.

She explained, "They were in front of St. Michael's. As soon as you told me about your friend losing them -"

Strong eye contact from me. "Not my friend - me. Not lost - taken."

"Can you imagine?"

I shrugged.

"What is this town coming to?" she wondered.

"Well, thank you for bringing them to me."

"That's OK."

She headed off down the street, and I went indoors, where my daughter was relieved to let out her laughter. "What was that?"

"It's how to get things back from her."

Sometimes I think I've been here too long - I can't even remember the last time anyone surprised me. But then I consider the utility of living in a place where you know the players - their habits, their strengths, their quirks. And what motivates them.

Oh, let's face it. We're all players - all of us. Has no one ever had to figure you out and then do something to bring out your best? To motivate you and spur you to action? That's what a healthy community can do. That's what love demands. That's what practicality demands, too.

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