Sunday, May 04, 2008

Lawnmower Years.

(Image found in a box of old stuff)

I bought this house thirty years ago this month. How long is that in lawnmower years?
There’s a Polaroid photo of one of my early lawnmowers somewhere around here. A cast off, a hand-me-down. Big-ass stamped red body with a white motor. I might’ve even repainted it in the process of its revitalization. New plug, new paint, fresh gas. So proud of it that I took a picture of it.
A. Photo. Of. A. Lawnmower.
An icon. A symbol of normality. If I recall correctly, I wanted to send the photo to my aunts in Peabody, Massachusetts. Owning a lawnmower was my ticket to respectability. You wouldn’t have a lawnmower if you were just some slacker guy. It was an emblem of my property-owning, upstanding citizen self.

I actually like mowing the lawn. It satisfies an 'Ozzie and Harriet' yearning in me. We had no lawns at the houses I grew up in. Not that I remember wanting a grassy yard, but when I bought this house it came with grass. At some point I realized that it had to be dealt with.
I think mowing has a calming effect on me, not unlike the feeling I used to get from ironing shirts. You pass the tool over the work and the result is so visible – so tangible. Smoothed cloth, a tamed wilderness. Man’s handiwork – evidence of civilization.

The simplest of machines, the lawnmower is. The inevitability of the sickle harnessed to the vast potential of internal combustion.
How many of these wonders had I dragged home from trash heaps and yard sales? How many Frankensteinian creations did I put together with each others’ hearts, handles and wheels?

Back in the early days, the machines were often no match for the yard if I didn’t establish a routine early in the season. When the grass got knee high the only way to attack it was to rear the mower up on its hind wheels, surge it forward by its own length and let it drop on the thicket from above. Progress was slow, of course – measured in blade shadows. Impatience on my part inevitably led to biting off more than the machine could chew. This resulted in the stalling of the machine.
The process of rear-surge-drop and rear-surge-stall would finally defeat me. Soon enough the grass would grow sufficiently tall to hide the mower and ease my shame somewhat.

Prosperity enabled me at some point to buy a brand new lawnmower. Maybe from Sears – maybe from our local hardware store. Some assembly required, of course, but I was an old hand by then. I’ve never been proud enough of the store-boughts to take a picture of one.

3 comments:

joshmchugh said...

Store-boughts! The scorn of the engineer. Reading this evoked those dark green cellulose-cakes that foil the blade and kill the spark, and there's nothing for them but to tip the rig over and dig them out of the undercarriage.

MQM said...

That's kind of a rewarding process itself.

MF said...

Sounds downright wholesome and manly, but alas, coming from the desert, lawns were a luxury and, if you were my mother, an annoyance. So sadly, I got left out of this whole rite of passage. For us, it was about shoveling 20 tons of gravel over an acre of backyard in the summer sun. That made you feel manly, if not sweaty.