Whenever I think of lawn mowing, an old silly joke pops into my head and I have to “tell it to myself” in order to get rid of it. Sort of the same thing that happens when you get stuck with a song that won’t go away and the only thing to do about it is to sing it from start to finish at the top of your lungs. It seems that Ethyl Barrymore was seen trimming the lawn with her nail scissors. When asked why she was using such an ineffectual little tool for such a big task, she replied, “That’s all there is; there is no mower.” Of course, if you’re too young to know about Ethyl Barrymore and her classically trained diction, the joke will mean next to nothing to you.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I want to get back to the subject at hand – lawn mowers.
I think I’ve seen, during my increasingly long life, just about every method of dealing with the cutting of grass. From the most minimum – having no grass to cut – to the most rapid and maneuverable of modern power mowers, it’s all been a part of my life at one time or another.
I remember my neighbor, Mrs. Henry Little, who swept her front yard with a broom nearly every day during grass-growing season. This insured that no grass could survive as well as keeping stray leaves, gum wrappers and other debris under control. Mrs. Little and her husband Henry planted the entire back yard to garden – both vegetables and flowers – while the front yard sported two tall elms and a pair of gooseberry bushes. At about that same period in my life (pre World War II) my grandmother’s front yard was dominated by red cedar trees that, for some reason, discouraged grass from growing. Her back yard was inhabited by chickens and my teenage uncles’ cars, which kept that part of the yard safe from all greenery. A high school girl who boarded with us during the week (in exchange for helping my mother with the housework) lived the rest of the time on a farm where the lawn was kept neatly cropped by a flock of sheep and goats.
Our own lawn was mowed regularly during the growing season by my dad using a well-oiled and wickedly sharpened push mower. The gentle clicking and whirring sounds were relatively unobtrusive even on Sunday mornings, compared to all the smoky, smelly, growling, roaring power mowers that came to our neighborhood in the first few years after the war. My dad persevered longer than most but finally gave in and bought a power mower when he had to concede that keeping a five-acre lawn and orchard looking neat and trim was a lot more work than the small single lot we lived on before he bought the acreage. This new lawn was well-nourished; the grass grew as thick as fur and as fast as weeds. The first summer it got so badly out of hand that he was forced to enlist my farmer uncles to help cut it with a scythe, as it was too long for even the power mower to conquer.
By the time I was in high school, our family owned and operated a miniature golf course. The course sprawled luxuriously over about four acres and boasted flower beds, fountains and lots of green grass that had to be kept neatly mowed. My sisters and I were kept busy subduing an overly-hardy stand of grass. Still, it would be some time before a riding mower came on the scene – we got some pretty strenuous exercise wrestling with the unwieldy gas mower. Later, after I was married, mowing the lawn was a chore that fell more and more on my list of responsibilities until at last our sons got old enough to take it over. By then, of course, my husband decided that HE needed a riding mower – in addition to a tractor for “the rough” – and, of course, that had great appeal to our sons. Nobody wanted to operate the walking mower, even though about all that was needed was to guide it around the yard. Much more fun to ride! And, the string trimmer was a big pain in the back. We eventually gave that up as simply not necessary.
It has been quite a few years since I did any of the mowing around here. With the advent of the riding mower, it was soon apparent that someone would have to readjust the seat and a number of things if I was going to be able to ride it comfortably. Good! There was enough boy and manpower around here. I could spend my time on other chores. In early summer when grass (and everything else) grows at warp speed, it’s nearly impossible to finish the mowing before it’s time to start all over. We have yet to succumb to the latest state-of-the-art high-speed mower that turns on a dime and does the job in record time. The temptation is looming closer, though.
In a way, it’s all rather sad. It used to be that mowing the lawn was an honored and major weekend tradition. A man expected to spend a large percentage of his spare time cutting the grass. It was probably the most exercise he got on a regular basis. Now, it’s becoming just one item on a list of little tasks to be gotten out of the way before he goes off to the gym for his workout.