Our house in Farmington had a big yard. I still remember when my dad told us he’d bought the lot behind our house, enabling us to plant grass all the way back to the road back there. At least half of the stories you’ll hear on this blog about our childhood summer days were made possible by that big, terraced, three-level back yard, covered in end to end lawn. Best thing that ever happened to us. But even before we annexed the other property, the yard was pretty big. And by the time I was ten or so, I was responsible for mowing half of it. The duties, as I recall, were split between me and my older sister Andrea in those days. Braden probably did this before I started, and Davis and Christian eventually came along afterward (it was always clear to all three of us that Dad trusted me with heavy machinery far earlier than he trusted those other two, and I’m pretty sure we all agreed that was wise). But for a few years, half the lawn was mine to mow.
It was a grievous burden to bear. I actually liked mowing the lawn, once I got going. But I usually spent an hour or two each Saturday avoiding it. That is, I spent two hours each Saturday morning doing all the rest of my work before I even got to the mowing. True, at least half of that time was usually taken by the highly complex ritual dance of finishing the weeding, getting my mom to come out and ‘check’ it, going back over to get all the weeds she’d pointed out, having her check it again, pulling out weeds that had just appeared since I finished the last round, submitting it for scrutiny again, and so on. This was a grueling process, but it taught me the lesson of hard work. I.e., never do work for someone who cares about how well you do your work.
Ah, those carefree childhood Saturdays, in the gulag.
So by the time I was ready to start the mowing, I was usually exhausted and cranky. And exhaustion is the mother of deception, as they say. Many a Saturday, instead of just going out and firing up the mower, I’d sit and scheme about how best to get out of it. Sure, there were a few sudden onsets of inexplicable illness, but that was a pretty bush-league move, and often ruled out any chance of fun for the rest of the night, my parents not being idiots. Other efforts were more creative. Like the one time I went out and adjusted each wheel of the lawn mower, raising the blade so it wouldn’t touch the grass. When my dad came home and asked why I hadn’t mowed, I said I had. He wasn’t buying, until he went out and inspected the lawn mower, only to find that some ne’er-do-well passerby had nefariously come along and raised it, so that all of my sweaty work had been in vain. Not my fault, but too bad. We’ll get it mowed next week, Dad.
Another week I noticed that most of the lawn growth was clustered around the eight sprinkler heads scattered around the yard. When my dad went down for a nap, I grabbed the yard sheers and clipped all the grass around the sprinklers down to the level of the rest of the yard. Again, Dad was skeptical about whether I’d really mowed, but there was something honorable about him that made him not want to accuse his favorite son of lying. I think we understood each other that way. Plus, I still learned the value of hard work, because it probably took me twice as long to hand-clip the overgrown areas as it ever would have taken to just mow the yard.
Such a great way to save yourself the time and effort of just mowing the lawn
But still to this day, I don’t think I’ve ever confessed the most brazen of my lawn-care avoidance schemes—to anyone. Dad had once shown me the fuel can that was only to be used to fuel the trimmer. This was a mix of oil and gas, and would not work in the lawn mower. Why would he tell me that? I sort of think this was meant as a kind of winking invitation. Whatever his intentions, there was no way this little piece of intel could go to waste. On a particularly hot Saturday, after a particularly grouchy session of weeding-litigation, the oil-gas mixture somehow made it into the mower. The mower started, then immediately petered out. I thought the half strip of perfectly mowed grass in the middle of the yard was a nice indicator of my good faith intention to complete my work. If only that cranky mower would have worked properly.
I went and found Dad. He tried to start it up, but couldn’t. Then he saw the small gas can sitting there open. After a few frustrated questions, and a few innocent, baffled answers, he was down in the gutter tipping the lawn mower over to drain the tank, and I was in on the couch watching Greatest American Hero. I still remember it so clearly, watching him labor over that upside-down machine. Knowing I’d done some damage, but sort of feeling justified at the same time. I still don’t know how I was capable of that kind of treachery. But treachery isn’t all that was going on there; there was plenty of ingenuity too, which I think would have made Dad sort of proud.
I feel different about yard work now. I really enjoy the mowing, weeding, and gardening. Maybe that’s because yard work is all mixed up with the exhilarating feeling that somehow I’m sneaking something by somebody. Thanks Dad. All those efforts to teach me to enjoy working have finally paid off.