Lawn Mowing “Old School”
I grew up in a time before gasoline & electric powered lawn mowers. There may be a few around who still remember, but for those who don’t, class is in session. Riding lawn mowers were probably not even conceptualized in the late 50’s and early 60’s and would have been totally impractical for the hillside lawns in my small hometown in southeastern Kentucky.
A Man’s Home (& His Lawn) Is His Castle
Male versus female roles were very traditional “Ozzie and Harriet” style during that era. While we had cookie-cutter style coal camp town houses that lacked originality in design, no owner of a half-million-dollar estate could’ve taken greater pride in his lawn than my dad. Our lawn was a reflection of the male of the family and the pride he had in his “castle” just as much as the interior of the home was a reflection of the female domain.
Observations of a Lawn Manicurist
While our home furnishings were Spartan on the inside, by contrast we had the most lush, green lawn in the neighborhood and my dad manicured it to perfection at least once a week. Lawn mowing was typically reserved for Saturday evening when the sun was going down and dad carried out the task with an old reel type push mower, the kind that is powered by muscles and oomph rather than gasoline or electricity. Despite the sweltering humidity and heat, dad mowed in long pants and a shirt. You didn’t see men my dad’s age wearing shorts and sandals. (Neither did they work on anything vainer than a “farmer’s tan” from rolled up sleeves while working in their vegetable gardens.)
Gasoline or electric powered string trimmers to edge the lawn were also tools of the future. Dad had only a pair of hand held (manual) clippers, with which he dutifully squatted down and edged every inch of our property line every time he cut the grass. For this reason, dad knew the value of keeping mower and clipper blades well sharpened. Too often those sharp blades failed to discern which were weeds and grass versus which were my mother’s treasured perennials and he justified the cutting by insisting she had planted her flowers in the wrong places.
Sense of Pride
My brother and I were taught at an early age that littering was totally unacceptable and were rebuked for tossing down even a small chewing gum or candy wrapper, which we were responsible to promptly retrieve and dispose of properly. I remember dad taking me out to the back yard, extending his arm from left to right over a freshly mowed lawn, then pointing out how even the smallest piece of litter detracted from the appearance of his masterpiece.
From a child’s perspective, it was comforting to step barefoot on that lawn and roll downhill in the grass on a sunny summer day. Searching for 4-leaf clover and picking dandelion seedpods from the grass were child’s play, and nobody sprayed chemicals on their lawns.
High traffic areas around the front and rear porches (& our homemade swing set) refused to grow grass and were therefore swept with a broom to remove pebbles that would bruise a child’s bare feet.
I remember when dad finally upgraded to a gasoline-powered mower. With its heavy cast aluminum frame, it was a monster in size by comparison to the old reel mower and very hard to push on the slopes of our hillside home. Dad didn’t get a smaller, lightweight and more manageable mower (still not self-propelled) and rechargeable battery powered lawn clippers until the early 1970’s. By this time, dad was in his 60’s and retired.
The Frustrated Mower
I remember the exact day dad decided to retire that aged gasoline mower. By this time I was married, living only 2 houses above the home of my birth. One day I was sitting on my front porch as dad was taking on the task of mowing his lawn. First I watched him bring the monster mower out of the tool shed to a level spot in the lawn where he always cranked the mower engine. I knew the routine well. As I was watching him, he began to yank the pull cord to crank the aged engine. Yank. Yank. Yank. Yank. Yank. Sputter. Sputter. Sputter. Start. I watched as dad began to push the sputtering mower out onto the slight slope of the yard, speeding up the engine as smoke emitted from the exhaust. About 3 feet out onto the lawn, the mower died.
Without a word on his expressionless face, dad dragged the mower in reverse back to the level spot and began again. Yank. Yank. Yank. Yank. Yank. Sputter. Sputter. Start. Sputter. Die. Yank. Yank. Yank. Yank. Sputter. Sputter. Smoke. Sputter start, and away he goes, not giving that old mower another second to change its mind. About 2 feet out onto the slope of the yard, it died again. Dad repeated his efforts once more, but this time, the mower was making no effort to start. I remained silent, watching this whole scene played out from the vantage point of my front porch. I could feel my dad’s frustration on that hot summer day.
As I continued to watch, dad turned and walked back to the tool shed. I expected to see him emerge with wrenches and tools to beginning working on the ailing mower. Instead he came out of the tool shed flourishing a razor sharp double-bit axe. I was extremely puzzled at this point, wondering how he was going to repair the lawn mower using a double-bit axe.
My answer came soon enough. Whack! Whack! Whack! Whack! After about 4 whacks on top of that old Briggs and Stratton engine with his axe, my dad, still silent, finished his “repairs” resulting in some enormous gashes on the mower engine and replaced the axe in the tool shed. Next he pushed the dead mower carcass to the curb for trash pick up. I continued to watch, still speechless. I was torn whether to acknowledge the scene I had witnessed followed by the obvious question: ‘Are you okay dad?’
Sometimes it just makes more sense to remain silent, which is exactly what I did. It was late evening after the heat and my daddy’s temper had cooled when I finally paid a visit to dad’s house to inquire (rather tongue-in-cheek) whether he had gotten his mower fixed.
I already knew the answer and he responded that indeed he had; he had just bought a new mower.
Keep That in Your Yard
Have you ever noticed how your neighbor’s dog never does his business in his own yard? The same was true of our neighbor’s dog. Dad believed a certain chocolate Doberman named Max watched and waited, spitefully and with malice intent, for the opportunity to unload his business on his freshly mown grass rather than the unkempt lawn of his owners. Our neighbors, including the dog owners, all knew how particular dad was with his lawn. They didn’t even get upset that day, while they sat on their back porch watching, when my dad carried out a small shovel and began flinging doggie poo airborne over the fence into the lawn of the rightful owners.
Modern Day Mowing
Spring has finally emerged and once again I hear the myriad of mowers as I drive by meticulously mown lawns, now striped with crisscrossing patterns by those just as OCD as my dad was; when I smell the essence of freshly mown grass, I remember my dad and I smile. Then I wonder whether there are children to appreciate that plush green carpet with bare feet. Is there a wife who appreciates the man who takes such tremendous pride in his home? I certainly hope so. However, the thing that makes me burst into laughter is when I spy an appreciative dog living next door.
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