My dad was an expert at getting kids to do tough work. When I was a little girl, I had to mow the lawn; not by myself of course, the lawn was way too big for that. Deanna and Bonita helped, so did Vickie. We took turns, 30 minutes at a time, rotating in and out of the house, mowing lawn and playing Monopoly until the acre worth of lawn was all mowed. The technique was the same as for disking the field, around and around in smaller and smaller rectangles, until the whole lawn was in neat paths of fresh mowed grass, smelly like, well like fresh mowed grass.
Dad said we had to wait until the grass was dry and we had to wear our leather shoes; those were our old school shoes, not our ‘tennies’. That’s what Dad called our Keds. If he caught me wearing my Keds to mow the lawn, oooo, he would be so, so mad. He said we could lose a toe that way. That made no sense at all to me. My feet were way, away from the blade, besides the blade could cut through my leather shoes, too.
“Just listen to me, and do what I tell you,” Dad said. His eyes lost all that nice shine that made him look like he was laughing, even when his lips turned down. His lips weren’t exactly turned down, but his jaws clamped so tight little ripples moved along and disappeared into his hair. Sometimes Bonita told me I should just keep quiet or Dad would be mad at all of us. I guessed this was one of those times, and now it was too late.
The lawnmower had a motor, but was not self-propelled. Nancy, my friend from across the road, had a lawn mower with no motor. I thought that was easier, because it was so light, I could lift it up with one hand. She hated to mow the lawn. I thought there were some really fun things about mowing the lawn ’cause there was a whole lot that got mowed besides grass. I just wished we could start earlier, ’cause by the time grass was dry, it was getting pretty hot, and a half hour was a long time to be out there, even if it ended up with one hour off between times mowing. That was the genius of my Dad: one whole hour before I had to go back out again.
Here’s some of the fun things that I got to mow down: Kleenex, dandelions, sticks, pickers, ant hills.
Whoever invented Kleenex was a genius like my Dad; Kleenex were a whole lot of fun, and they were good for stuff besides wiping noses. Mom made curlers out of them, Deanna made paper carnations out of them, they were great for starting fires, and it was a lot of fun over them with the lawnmower. Phphphphttttt…. then out the other end in a million little pieces. Same thing with seedy dandelions: phphphphtttt…. fairy wings all over the place.
Sticks got all ground up too, but sticks made and angry puscht sound and sometimes sticks stopped the lawnmower altogether. That was trouble, ’cause then I had to go in and get Mom to help start it up again, and sometimes a stick would catch in the blade. One time Deanna ran over the cap to the natural gas line leading to the house; that broke the lawnmower. She said she never saw it. I think that might have been a fib, ’cause a big yellow pole, two feet high was right beside it, marking where the cap was. I didn’t say anything though, ’cause Deanna already felt bad about breaking the lawnmower, and I never got anybody on trouble on purpose.
I liked to mow over the pickers just to get even. I hated those things when I was barefoot running around on the nice soft lawn minding my own business, then, ouch. Darn it all, I hit a picker. Our cousins from Chicago never saw a picker before. When Meg and Pat and Chip came to visit, we warned them about the pickers, “What’s that?” they all asked. What a hoot, those city kids never even saw a picker before, I bet they didn’t know what a burr was either. Nope they didn’t.
We had at least three ant hills in our yard. I liked to let the mower sit on top of them until no more dirt blew out making everything smell like a dust storm. I figured those ants thought the world was about to end, with a huge wind whipping all around them and their home going up in dust and everything dark. Sure enough when I pushed the mower off, the ants were frantic, scurrying in and out of holes, picking up bits of dirt and twigs, already starting to repair things. I could see why that grasshopper in the story said to the ant, “Relax a little, life’s too short.”
When I got bigger, Dad told me if I kept my shoulders back and pushed more with my arms, it would help my chest get big. I concentrated on that, ’cause every girl wanted a big chest. Dad sure was a genius at getting kids to do tough work. I almost looked forward to mowing the lawn after that.
I still like to mow the lawn, I still have about an acre to mow, but now I use John Deere lawn tractor. I don’t run over things anymore, but I do like to go round and round the trees in circles that intersect, making designs all over the lawn. Each week I try to make different designs in the lawn. It’s a ton of fun.
I knew a guy who lost his big toe mowing the lawn. And guess what? The grass was wet, he was wearing gym shoes, his feet slipped out from under him and the mower slid back over his foot. Right away, I thought of Dad and his jaw rippling at me. My friend should have had a dad like my dad.