Watching a neighbor mow his lawn recently reminded me of my next door neighbor in
Sioux City nearly 40 years ago. A native of Maryland, Bob laughed whenever I talked about "mowing the lawn." Back in Maryland, Bob said, people "cut the grass." He had never heard "mowing the lawn" until he moved to Iowa. No matter how you say it, mowing the lawn or cutting the grass slipped to near the bottom of my list of favorite things-to-do over the years. I started cutting grass when I was about nine-years-old and burned out on the task well before 60.
When I was a kid backaches were for old people the only time I recall having sore feet was when I got new shoes. In later years I could get both in just one hour of mowing grass. That’s why we bought a townhouse seven years ago. Lawn and snow removal are provided (for a fee, of course.)
Early on I thought mowing looked like fun. I recall watching my parents push an old steel-wheeled reel-type mower across the yard. I couldn’t wait to try it myself. When I was five we moved to a house with a large lawn which apparently prompted my father to invest in a power mower. I remember accompanying Dad to the local lawn mower shop where he picked out a new yellow and green rotary-cut model powered by a two-cycle engine. I was still too young to operate it but it made a lot of noise which made it seem like it would be fun.
A few years later, Dad agreed to let me use the family mower to earn money and I went door-to-door soliciting lawn mowing jobs. My first customers were Oscar and Goldie Gabrielson, a delightful retired couple who lived next door. Soon I was also mowing for Mrs. Halgerson, a widow who lived a block away. Mrs. Halgerson had a lot of flowers and shrubbery and didn’t like the looks of our power mower. She insisted that I use her old push mower. I didn’t mind using her mower. It was easier to control around all of the flowers and shrubs. Besides, she always served cookies and fruit juice about halfway through the job. Pushing her old mower also gave me a chance to show her neighbors’ daughter how tough I was. We had a large lawn at home and I was responsible for keeping it cut. There was no payment for this job, of course, and if I wanted cookies and juice I knew where to find them. As my brothers grew older I was happy to pass on the home turf to them, though it’s one thing we never fought over.
During my teen years I mowed a few yards in between baling hay, walking beans and serving the livestock industry as a pitch fork engineer.
For a few years, I lived in an apartment and had no lawn maintenance obligations. After my wife and I moved into our first house, however, I assumed responsibility for lawn care. Our tight budget limited our first lawn mower purchase to a weather-beaten used mower which ended up giving us six years of good service. When our son was old enough to handle a power mower I taught him the joys of mowing. Our home in Sioux City was built into a hill and we had small parcels of grass on four different levels. It took about as much time to move the lawn mower up and down retaining wall steps as it did to actually cut the grass. He lost his excitement over operating a power mower more quickly than I did. When we were house-hunting in Creston 25 years ago a flat lot with an ample yard was high on the list of things I wanted. The half-acre level lot we purchased took a lot of time to mow and when our son left home I purchased a riding mower.
He still comments on the timing of that purchase.
Our first home in Ankeny had a steep (steeper than I thought when we purchased it) sloping back yard that seemed to need cutting more frequently when I was out of town on a road trip.
My dislike of lawn maintenance work was a powerful motivation when we decided to purchase a town house. Now I don’t have to mow the lawn… or cut the grass.