Contributed by Life Columnist Dirk Ellingson.
Many people love the smell of freshly mown grass. Not me. It’s an olfactory reminder that my yard too likely needs mowing. I always said I preferred shoveling snow to cutting grass on the chore chart, but even in Missouri you did much more of the latter than the former. If I had to shovel snow weekly for a season then likely it too would’ve become an odious task.
Running out the gas from the mower at the end of autumn’s final cut was a satisfying annual ritual. In Missouri that happened in early October. In Louisiana, it’s later in November. And starting up the mower for a new season of grass cutting in March? I find that depressing.
In late 2015 prior to my migration south, I took the venerable Lawn-Boy to a Missouri shop for servicing prior to winter hibernation. That cost $151.41. That sleep of customarily a few months extended to three years after our move because we lived in a rental house where lawn care was provided. The Lawn-Boy sat covered in a shed, albeit a doorless shelter, just waiting for the phone to ring. I’m certain in addition to the accumulated grime that rats from an abandoned house next door also visited frequently. In 2018 we bought a house of our own with a lawn of our own. Rousing the long dormant Lawn-Boy the following spring proved hopeless and so it was off to the small engine repair shop.
They regarded my Lawn-Boy as a museum piece. One fellow said, “These things are bullet proof.” I asked why you didn’t see them much anymore. He repeated, “Because they’re bulletproof.” I guess that’s bad for business. The market demands constantly updated disposable goods like delicate modern phones and computers. Consumers want what they’re made to believe is the latest and greatest.
My dad Roger, who did not pass on his talents for mechanical repair to me, kept his old Briggs and Stratton push mowers running for decades. He bestowed upon me the Lawn-Boy and I assumed it too would run for years. Plus, I never want to spend money on new mowing gear. I don’t enjoy the task. It’s hot and loud. Too much of a Yang environment for a Yin person like me. That’s another problem I have adapting to the south. It’s most often bright, loud and hot. I like things dark, quiet and cool.
Local Minden repair last year kept the hobbled Lawn-Boy cutting grass for just a few weeks. Then it checked out again and wouldn’t start. Back to the shop. Then back to mowing. Back to not cooperating. ack to the shop for still more repair. All in 2019. Three trips. I dropped $167.21 on the beast last year. Combined with Missouri servicing, that’s a total of $318.62 and there we might be approaching fiscal territory where it’s cheaper to invest in a new push mower. I’ve never considered a riding mower. Never even piloted one. They’re more expensive and I’ve always had yards with challenging geometric corners, hills, slopes, and obstacles I’m more likely to navigate around or run down than to move.
Lawn mowing was one of the few ways to generate income for a teen boy in the 1970’s and I cleared $5 to $8 per yard. Some customers insisted I bag the grass, a real affront to my interest in and dedication to yardwork. You had to empty the bag every couple of rows. Even my dad didn’t require this sort of meticulous nonsense. Plus, the ground up grass is good mulch for the green blades to regrow ensuring the cycle can continue. Why waste that organic fertilizer in a trash bag?
A friend was horrified I didn’t automatically bag the mown grass. And he said I should be doing something called edging. I wasn’t doing that either. If I didn’t have lawn pride, I certainly didn’t have sidewalk pride. He made his teen daughter edge and she and I commiserated over her dad’s stringent lawn standards.
As teens, my brother Eric and I despised the chore. He cut the back yard and I cut the front. He had more square footage but I had hillier terrain. We learned to lower the wheels to give the yard a proper scalping which in theory would require less frequent cutting. But we didn’t always conspire on synchronous wheel height and Roger detected that the backyard grass was chopped a different level than the front. Sometimes we sliced it so short it would die off in dry August. That was okay with us but not our father. He had tougher standards. But he didn’t make us bag and edge.
Never a yardwork perfectionist but always a good-enough-onist my disdain for lawn mowing continued into my adulthood. I participated when needed and to keep from receiving threatening letters from the city. Eric turned lawn neglect into an art form when he lived on rural property and I saw firsthand what could happen if you really let a lawn go. The plants took over. There was vegetation growing through his exterior roof and leafing through a crevice inside the living room. Like a weird houseplant with roots outside. Soil eroded under his front entry and the concrete porch eventually seceded from the house. His property was clearly in decline and yet he continued his strict policy of non-interference. He has since married and moved and his wife Erin is responsible for all the yardwork.
This year I yanked the Lawn-Boy cord before winter had officially ended with trepidation and dread that another trip to the small engine repair shop was in my near future. Much to my surprise and delight, it started without protest. It mowed without rebellion. It’s going good in recent weeks. Like the temperamental motorcycle, I only feed it premium gasoline. Summer is nearly here and cutting grass is probably my least favorite weekly task, yet I’m proud the Lawn-Boy is still at it. And I suspect the going rate today were I to hire a teen laborer would be a lot more than $5 to $8.