Written: May 8, 2020
Added to Site: July 5, 2020
“What’s that sound I hear? I think it’s the grass growing.”
The sound I heard wasn’t the grass growing. It was my dad’s not-so-subtle way of reminding that my least favorite chore was still to be done. I hated mowing the lawn. What a horrible way to spend a beautiful Saturday afternoon. I don’t remember ever timing it, but it was probably about a two-hour job. Lawns are bigger in Michigan than they are in California. Thank heavens they were covered with snow four months out of the year.
I went to college less than an hour’s drive from home, so I was available to cut the grass long after my father died. I was thankful that my mother eventually moved to a smaller house with a smaller yard. When I went to graduate school, my drive home was closer to two hours, but every other week was enough. Eventually, that house became mine and my cutting the grass became less a family responsibility and more just a rite of home ownership.
I still hated it.
In 1980, I moved from the ‘burbs of Detroit to a burb in California, and soon realized an advantage of paying more money for less house, i.e. less yard. I actually took an area of about 200 square feet of dirt and planted grass.
But I was only in Salinas for a little more than a year before I was offered a promotion to a job in San Francisco. Once again, I paid more for less. Even after removing the hedge that separated my lawn from the sidewalk, cutting the grass in front was a fifteen-minute job. One of the big selling points of the house was the huge deck in back, covering virtually all of what would otherwise be a sizeable (though hardly Michigan sizeable) back lawn. When I downsized the deck, I covered the newly exposed area with shrubs and a flagstone walkway. Smart.
In a burst of environmentalist enthusiasm, I got rid of my gasoline-powered lawn mower and replaced it with an electric plug-in model. This turned out to be not-so-smart. Just dealing with the cord tripled the time spent doing the lawn. What is it about electric cords that you just can’t roll them up without their kinking and turning into a messy pile of electrical spaghetti? Of course, once the cord was deployed, I spent considerable time moving it from place to place so as not to run over it. I’d managed to turn my fifteen-minute job into a minor nightmare of home ownership.
I don’t remember the conversation I had with my next-door neighbor Tom a few years back, but it no doubt was initiated by me upon seeing someone cutting his lawn. I’d never really thought of throwing money at the problem. Tom is a contractor and one of the people who worked for him sourced a guy who came over once every two weeks to do his lawn. What an opportunity for everyone. Soon he was doing two lawns right next to each other, and making more money while Tom and I got a better deal than we could have gotten each using our own guy. My lawnmower sat idle, eventually going to Urban Ore which gave me nothing but the reclaimed space in my garage. Life isn’t always fair.
Seems like old times.
Eventually, our cutter had some heart problems and got out of the business, but Tom was able to find someone quickly to take his place. He was a champ, and I paid Tom only $70 every two months. He would not only cut the grass, but used his blower to clean up my cement patio and sidewalk. Once I asked him if he could trim the shrubs in back and how much would it cost. He simply did it, no charge. But like the first guy, he was elderly (my age?) and he too had health issues. Unlike the first guy, he wasn’t easy to replace.
Weeks passed. I heard the sound of my grass growing.
Tom’s wife Liz eventually left a note on my door telling me they had found someone and gave his number. Reading her note it sounded like there would be a big price increase, like to $80 a month, but when I called the guy I realized that no, he was going to charge us $80 each for each cutting. Yikes! It didn’t seem to be a language issue. I told him no. I didn’t see Tom the next day and the day following his lawn was cut. He shook his head in frustration. My interpretation of the offer had been correct.
Time to get another lawnmower. Pastime Hardware, my favorite “Helpful Hardware Folks,” doesn’t carry gasoline powered mowers anymore, but directed me to a place called “Single Cylinder Repair” not far away. There I found what I wanted, quickly got over the expected sticker shock, and within the hour my lawn was cut. My patio still needed sweeping, but my lawn was cut. Somehow the work didn’t seem quite so distasteful as before, and even if Tom finds someone to do his lawn at a reasonable rate I’ll do my own for at least long enough to have the mower pay for itself.
I’ve come full cycle, (single cycle for those who know about lawnmower engines) from pushing a gas-powered lawnmower to pushing a plug-in electric to hiring people to do it for me to once more pushing a gas-powered mower. Progress? You bet! On this model the handle folds over to save a couple of square feet in my garage.
Note: This piece was written for my Tuesday night writing group. Thanks to them for their comments.