On a bicycle ride recently on a country road I saw a man stealing someone’s lilac blooms. He stopped his red pickup, clipped a few blooms, and drove off.
This wasn’t the first roadside larceny I have witnessed. When I lived in Connecticut, I saw men pull their trucks into wooded areas and steal field stones from historic stone walls. I once yelled “not yours” to the stone thief but wasn’t brave enough to stop.
When I saw Red Pickup Guy making off with his lilac loot, I thought about standing up for private property. One reason I didn’t — besides that the guy was pretty big — is that I am a hypocrite on this issue. My brother and I had carried out similar capers when I was about 10 years old. My Grandfather Borrelle was the brains of the gang and we were the muscle. Grandpa’s target was dandelions.
We would drive along rural roads and stop the car where he saw a cache. Sometimes it was someone’s lawn. Other times it was just a rural roadside, a highway shoulder, or even a cemetery.
He directed Ken and me to the trunk of the car where we would find a cardboard box and forked weeding tool. Our instructions were to harvest the juiciest dandelions we could find. His only admonition was not to take any that had bloomed into a yellow flower.
We had no idea what we were doing; we just wanted to fill the darn box with something green before one of our friends saw us. When we were finished, Ken and I would put the box of “weeds” in the trunk. Then we quickly hopped in the back seat and slid down low so no one could see us from outside. Grandpa drove the slowest get-away car in history; he always went 10 or 20 miles per hour below the speed limit. It was excruciating.
Dandelions were not the only target for our gang. We would drive to a local gravel business and use a dust pan and a cardboard box (Grandpa had an unending supply for some reason), to take small stones for grandpa’s yard. We’d also head to Keeler’s dairy farm on Spook Rock Road and, with the same dust pan and box, collect dried cow manure for his garden.
It was dandelions he prized most. Grandpa would clean them and season them with oil and vinegar. He would serve them at lunch or dinner to my parents, who devoured this spring treat. Ken and I turned up our noses at them, largely because we knew where they came from.
An immigrant who ran a billiard shop, Grandpa worked hard for every nickel. He was shrewd and knew how to play the angles, and he seemed to consider anything that was in public view to be his for the taking.
We were always successful – no one ever chased us away from their homes or business. To this day, the Dandelion Thieves have a clean record.