Mow, mow, mow your lawn forever and a day
By Anthony Buccino
Droning machinery and the fumes of gasoline mixed in
the ‘perfect,’ hah!, proportion
Only one thing is better than waking up to the sound of a power lawnmower on Saturday morning, and that is cranking up your mower to wake up the neighborhood teenager first thing after his late night out. Beep! Beep! Slam! Slam!
Of course, it’s just a coincidence that you happen to be mowing at a time he would find early. It’s hilarious to engage the youthful neighbor in an existential conversation, above the lawnmower’s roar, about what is late and what is early.
As your point, ask if 2 a.m. is late or early? Or does that answer depend on whether you are going out with your friends at 2 a.m. or leaving for the early shift?
If he gets grumpy at your philosophical questions, remind him that he’ll be sleeping away one-third of his life, just not this morning.
I began mowing our family lawn when I was 10 years old. Until that time, we never had any lawn to mow.
Yeah, THAT lawn
At grandma’s house, the front yard was enclosed by hedges and in the middle of the square was a big blue snowball bush.
Her backyard had no grass to mow either. It was covered with grapevines, fig trees and gardens so that common grass had no place to grow.
In her own way, she said, if you can’t eat it, why grow it?
We set up homestead on our one-quarter acre and then commenced a quarter century of tackling the green grass of home.
Pushing that simple lawnmower without a break week after week, I could get the whole lawn cut in about one hour.
If it had rained a lot and the grass grew, the chore took two hours.
When I got my own house, it seemed as though we could never have two lawnmowers working at the same time. I’d mow one lawn, then haul the working mower across town to the other house, and then start mowing that lawn.
After a long day at work, and busy weekend calendars, it’s no wonder someone started selling power mowers with headlights just like the one on my vacuum cleaner.
In the ‘60s, my Dad asked me to have the patience to bag the cuttings and haul them down the back yard for use in his tomato garden or compost pile.
This small request added hours to the chore.
The side bag was full and overflowing in less than one swath of the 215-foot yard.
With a yard that long, different sections grew differently.
Some were tall and thin and cut quickly, while other sections were thick as sod and nearly impossible to cut even with the various power mowers we consumed every few years.
We got a new manual with each new lawn mower after our lawn had turned the last one into scrap.
Dad read in the book that came with one or more of the many lawnmowers that it was a good idea to vary your direction of cutting the lawn each time you cut it.
According to the son’s companion manual, that meant he wanted me to vary my direction of cutting the lawn each time I cut it.
It did break up the monotony of cutting the same swath each week around the bushes.
One week I first mowed under the parking pole, around the well sink-hole, and then under the homemade pigeon-watching bench, through the weeping willow weepers that scratched my face, around the grid work of peach trees, across the slope of the front hill and on and on across the grounds.
And the next week, I flopped the route.
Perhaps there were Russian spy satellites that pulled close-up duty on our humble lawn and tried to make out the different messages engraved in secret code each week.
Our lawn could have signaled the landing of alien life forms if only I had forgotten to cross the encoded ‘T’.
Droning machinery and the fumes of gasoline mixed in the ‘perfect,’ hah!, proportion to the special lawn mower motor oil set the steering handle to vibrate almost all the feeling out of my hands as I struggled across the green.
When the little metal thing fell off and I picked it up, very briefly, my neighbor identified it as a muffler. “Hot, isn’t it?” he said.
It is in the overwhelming monotone of spinning steel swatting and chopping helpless plant life that gives one pause for thought.
After all, there’s so much noise; you can’t hear what anyone else is saying, so you may as well listen to what you have to say yourself.
It’s about the only time you can think uninterrupted.
A young writer once told me he kept track of his thoughts while he was landscaping. I think he said he was going to call it “the random thoughts of a lawn mower.” He was, of course, the lawn mower. It wasn’t a lawnmower that was thinking those random thoughts. It was the man behind the mower, so to speak. I haven’t seen the book but I’m sure his shaky penmanship didn’t make it very easy to record his thoughts.
Things have changed a bit in the 30-plus years since I began mowing the family acres. Nowadays, everywhere I look I see someone driving around with a landscaping truck.
Some are made of converted buses, others are mini-vans and yet others are full-blown pickup trucks with a trailer lagging behind with all the equipment.
Today’s landscapers don’t have it easy. They are out there when the sun is beating down and all the sane people are hiding out in air-conditioned buildings or at the beach.
They also have to put up with discovering the otherwise secret bees’ nest. I’ve personally found that bees do not like to have their nests disturbed by a lawnmower or the nut behind the wheel.
It’s a thankless, dirty, sweaty, hot job that gives a guy at the end of the day the right to say that his sweat is from good, honest hard work.
There you will find a guy who knows the value of a dollar, and what it means to work for a buck.
Yet, it is in the hum of the mower, that hand-numbing vibration and the green-stained Keds that an inner peace is achieved like a Rocky Mountain high without the beer.
It was the exclusion of everything but the task at hand that sustained me in my lawn mowing days.
There was the lawn, the mower and I, at least for that hour or so.
And that was when I solved most of the world’s problems and a few of my own, in the loud silence echoing in my head behind the fumes and the noise.
And as for my noisy late-night neighbor, as fall approaches, it is the modern day invention of the leaf blower that will assist me and the wonderful wind to send his leaves back into his yard to rest once again under his tree, of course, early on Saturday morning.
Beep! Beep! Slam! Slam!
First published in Worrall Community Newspapers on Sept. 25, 1997.
Adapted from RAMBLING ROUND Inside and Outside at the Same Time
Essays, photography, military history, more
New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards.
Permissions & other snail mail:
PO Box 110252 Nutley NJ 07110
Life and Growing Up In North Jersey