Two summers ago, Olivia (now a second grader at Lincoln Elementary) and her little brother Will started a faerie garden—just a few gnomes and some colored crystals—outside their family’s Slatterly Park home.
Olivia is a science kid—into hard facts and non-fiction books. But her mom’s mom—they call her “Gramma Carrot”—likes to tell her stories about faeries and their secret world. How they move around at night when we can’t see.
The garden slowly grew, bit by bit, tiny toadstool by ribbon-wrapped stick.
This year, with the kids stuck at home for long stretches, it got more attention than usual. It was a fantasy escape for Olivia, the seven-year-old science kid.
In this year full of big things, some of the little things seem to matter even more.
Then, on the morning of August 15, Olivia’s mom, Rachel, walked outside and noticed the faerie garden was gone.
All of it.
Someone had stolen it in the night. Someone had bothered to pick up and take all the little pieces—the colored glass and the seashells, even.
“We were all really bummed out when we noticed in the morning,” says Rachel, a music teacher at Folwell and Churchill elementaries. “I was worried the kids would be really upset. My second thought was ‘One more point for 2020; One less point for us.’”
Something about the situation, maybe catalyzed by quarantine, she says, sparked a response.
So Rachel (a classical musician) texted her dad (an English major and poet) and her brother (a well-read JRR Tolkein enthusiast). And the three of the started writing, well, a Medieval proclamation.
“Something rotten in the State of Slatterly,” it began.
“By pricking my thumbs
Something wicked this way comes!
A most notable coward
Ungrateful and plague-sore.
A family of faeries and gnomes
A garden of toadstools and jewels
A human girl of seven years curses you!
The wrath of a human mother is upon you!
There shall be a token
That Doom is near at hand,
For Isildur’s Bane shall waken,
And the halfling forth shall stand.”
She posted it on the Slatterly Park section of Nextdoor, the nationwide app with a neighborhood focus. Didn’t think much more about it.
“I had no hopes of actually getting the fairies back,” says Rachel. “The post was literally only for my benefit.”
Then came the responses.
Some were poems that mirrored her original Medieval post. Some, she says, were private messages with people’s stories about how tough this year has been for them. And how they wanted to help someone else out.
Then came the gnomes. And the toadstools. And the tiny wooden benches.
Some items showed up overnight. There was the morning they walked out to see the seashells and starfish placed around their tree. The morning they found the fancy fake flowers. The morning they discovered the tiny treasure chest decorated by a young child.
Some people called ahead.
“Two gentlemen and a lady contacted me to see if they could drop off a few gifts,” says Rachel. “I said ‘sure.’”
The men delivered newly-bought trinkets—tiny faerie houses and a tiny bridge. The woman—carrying her newborn, named “Olivia” of all things—donated items from her own garden.
The visitors didn’t know Rachel or her family. They didn’t, it turns out, even know each other. They had met in the comments section of Rachel’s Nextdoor post, and had decided to pool their resources.
“We spent a lovely morning chatting, watching Liv put her new garden together, and just basking in the fact that people are still good,” says Rachel. “And funny. And everybody wants to help, if only given a chance. Isn’t that the best ‘lesson?’”
Within a week, Olivia’s Faerie Garden was filled with tiny animals. Tiny treasure chests. A faerie house with tiny working solar panels.
A small sign that reads “Gnome sweet gnome.” A small sign that reads “Smile, you’re on camera.” A small sign that reads “Hope.”
And—now hanging in Olivia’s room—a scroll, hand-delivered by neighbors and hand-lettered “To Miss Liv, the tiny human queen of this dwelling.”
“We’ve sent you this letter/in hopes you’ll feel better,” it reads, in part. “Along with some magic to add to your garden.”
It’s signed “With all our love, The Super Secret Protection Agency Of The Magic Faerie Garden Society.”