Monday, August 24, 2015

A Pain in the Grass

Greetings, WYMOP fans!

So it’s finally happened, like a dream come true—the dream of every father whose spawn comes out with the stem on the apple:
My son is big and old enough to help cutting the grass.
I remember when I was old enough to help my father with the grass. It was a different time then, with different tools. I was out there with my dad, using a hand-trimmer—that’s right, boys and girls, no gasoline or electrical cords, I was down on my little hands and knees with what amounts to a pair of scissors, making my way around the bottom of the fence—when my father asked me to give the mower a try. This was a proud moment for me, one of those “today, I am a man,” moments, since if he wanted me to try the lawn mower, my father must have thought I was big enough to push the damn thing.
Oh, I know there are some younger folks out there thinking I mean I just had to drag the machine around because the motor only drove the blade, not the wheels, but I’m even older than that. This was a push mower, no motor involved. The blade was driven by gears attached to the wheels, and the wheels only moved if I got the thing rolling, and back then,
Who needs a gym?
though we did have plastic, we didn’t
trust it. We had fiberglass, too, but that was for Commies and boats (yeah, I don’t get the connection either), so this machine was made of  bolted-together cast iron, and weighed almost as much as I did. But I was game. I stepped up to that iron age grass cutter, gripped the handle, and threw my weight into the thing, straining my mighty thews . . . okay, back then I had maybe one thew, and a small one at that, but I strained the hell out of it, and got the mower moving.  I cut a row alongside the row my father had already cut, humps in the ground and tussocks of grass sending the mower swerving this way and that, while I concentrated on just keeping the damn thing moving.
When I reached the end of the row, I let the mower bump to a halt and turned to survey what I’d done. There, next to my father’s nice, straight row, was a path across the lawn akin to the skidmarks left behind after a really bad car crash, when the driver had lots of time to stop, but not the ability. There were graceful curves. There were sudden right angle turns. There was even a figure nine—it would have been a figure eight, but a low spot in the yard kept me from completing one loop. I turned to where my father had watched the entire process, my little heart heavy, anticipating—dreading—his disapproval. But he wasn’t there.
Where he had stood hung a dust cloud, like a silhouette of smoke, just like I saw every Saturday morning when the Coyote chased the Road Runner. Drifting on the wind came my father's faint voice, a message sent winging my way as Dad ran for the hills . . . or possibly the television. “Come in when you’re done, and try not to miss any spots!” I turned back to the mower and started jockeying it into position to take another winding swipe out of the lawn, because on that day I’d taken a great step on my way to becoming a man.
A very stupid man.
That was then; this is now. Today would be a vastly different experience, because I was on the other side of it. But I wouldn’t abuse my fatherly power, and have the boy mow the whole yard. The yard at Handsome’s house isn’t like the yard I had growing up. That yard was flat, and relatively level, with just a house and fence to trim. Though the tools are different now, the technology better, with all its electrical cords and gasoline, the yard at the house today has hills. Barely any of it is actually flat and portions of it are fairly steep—and for trimming, there is the house and fence, as when I was a boy, but there is also a rock wall, trees, a stump, a shed, another rock wall, the driveway, another rock wall, stairs, another hill . . . it is not the same job I had as a boy.
So I gave my son a choice: gas-powered mower or electric trimmer. Either way, he was doing half the job. He chose the trimmer and got to work. I strode up and down the various yards around the house—front, side, upper back, lower back—carving paths through the grass as straight and true as I remember my father’s being those many years ago, while Handsome buzzed along fences, walls, and foundations with a speed and ease I’d only dreamed about as a boy his age.
Just as I was finishing the upper back yard, he appeared beside me, trimmer in hand. “It’s out of line,” he said. “But I think I’m done anyway.” He flipped a hand toward various parts of the property, a finger pointing almost too fast to see. “I got over there, and there, and there and there and down there. So,”—he raised an eyebrow—“can I go?”
I was looking at the trimmer, having taken it and flipped it over to check the cutting line feed. I’d popped it open while he talked, and, sure enough, it was empty. “I guess,” I said, pushing the feeder head closed once more. “But why don’t you—”
I looked up to find I was talking to a strangely familiar cloud of dust, like a boy shaped from smoke. I peered about the yard, but he was gone; this time, not even words hung in the air to explain the disappearance.
I shrugged and carried the trimmer into the garage to refill the line feeder. While I was winding the cutting string onto the spool, I noticed a tall tuft of grass, sticking up from a spot along the top of the retaining wall like a stubborn cowlick. When I’d filled the feeder and snapped the trimmer head back together, I went and cut off that cowlick. On the way over to it I spotted another. On the way to that second one, I spotted a third. Then a fourth. Just to be sure, I buzzed along the top of the retaining wall, making sure to get every remaining blade of grass. The wall led me to a tree whose base needed doing. Beyond the tree was a low wall with a few stalks he’d missed. This led me to the house. Which led me to the fence.
I was actually working on the third rock wall when I realized I’d done nearly all the trimming over again—in some cases for the first time that day—while once again, someone had run for the hills. Or, and in this case it was much more likely, the television. A passer-by at that moment might have heard the words “Son of a bitch!” roll out across the lawn, as I realized that my dream hadn’t come true. Instead, I’d simply taken, at forty-six, yet another step on my road to becoming a man.
A very stupid man.
Some things don’t change.
Where can I get a dust cloud?

Talk to you later!


  1. Great story. It's great to see those childhood memories having such a lasting effect, and y'know I'm sure if you wanted your son to really 'feel what it was like for you' you could get hold of a manual mower from somewhere, though that might just be a little too cruel!

    1. Thanks, glad you liked it.
      I've actually seen a few manual mowers out at yard and garage sales this summer, and it was tempting . . .