Machines and Machinations

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.

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14 Responses to Machines and Machinations

  1. Rachel says:

    After reading this, two stories from my own childhood come to mind. The first is when my Dad actually entrusted Rebecca and I to mow our front lawn as well as weed the side-yard. We set out to weed first and realized that those darn weeds had completely overtaken the stone-encased garden and now appeared more like our grassy front lawn than a well-tended garden. What to do next? Well, we jumped the stone hedge with our lawn mower and mowed all of those weeds down, of course.

    The second occurred when my older brother, Jordan, was asked to mow our front lawn in a home that sported a very large hill that went straight up to our home. He was out there for quite some time. A few hours later, a few of my siblings and I ventured outside to play and noticed a few raised parts of grass so we walked down the hill to survey the scene. Even at my young age, I was able to make out the word, “Hi!” so beautifully mowed into the lawn from the top of that hill all the way to the bottom… I’m sure our neighbors thought we were the most friendly bunch they’d ever met.

  2. Eliza says:

    Unbelievable! Sweet Earnest Ryan, pulling the wool over our eyes like that, I”m seriously shocked. Dang funny though and dang naughty, stuff like that would have never ever have occurred to me. great stuff and thanks for reminding me how much I should enjoy my Saturdays from now on, when remembering those never ending quality checks.

  3. Davis says:

    Man. Rotten kid.

  4. Ben Pratt says:

    Oh man, Ryan. As soon as I read “the fuel can that was only to be used to fuel the trimmer” I was yelling “Not the two-stroke fuel!”

  5. Braden says:

    Dad, are you reading this??? Remember, Dad, we tried to warn you about Ry, but you’d never believe us. In fact, we even got in trouble once because we told you about this sort of thing.

    Ry, this post was great It brought back so many memories. It’s a shame we can’t find a way to harness the ingenuity spent on getting out of work.

  6. Wade says:

    Reminds me of a time when I was supposed to vacuum the main floor of our house before I could go play with my friends, but since I was in a hurry I came up with the brilliant idea to run the (unplugged) vacuum over the carpet so the tracks would make it look like I had actually vacuumed. So this I did in those perfect back and forth rows with painstaking precision so as to not draw suspicion, picking up random scraps and crumbs with my hands to complete the ruse. Over the entire upstairs carpet.

    Almost as brilliant as raising the mower height when you are mowing so you wouldn’t actually be mowing. We showed them!

  7. Ryan says:

    Rachel, if I had only thought to mow the flower beds. Wow, that would have saved me hundreds of Saturday kid-hours.

    Eliza, you had to have known by now I was never that innocent. By the way, Mom came over last night, and I honestly got a little twinge of pride that I had finished all my weeding in our front beds the day before.

    Ben, that’s exactly what I was thinking when he was explaining it to me. “don’t tell me not to use the two-stroke fuel! Now I’m going to have to use it!”

    Brade, every second favorite son will always try to sully the favorite son in the eyes of the father. I’m glad Dad was always too smart for that.

    That’s an awesome trick, Wade. Great one.

    But just so you know, I didn’t actually do the mowing the day I raised the mower. Raising it was meant to indicate that the lawn actually had been mowed, but no grass had been cut. But that ruse didn’t require me to actually push the thing around.

  8. Andrea W. says:

    Wow, it’s good that you’ve always been a really good guy, because that little thing called “conscience” never seemed to be a big part of your life 🙂 LOL. Really funny post, sort of. Now as a parent of kids almost to the age you were when you perpetrated these things, it’s a little more unsettling than funny! And, boy do I feel stupid for just mowing my half of the lawn.

  9. Danica says:

    I love “When my dad went down for a nap” – the imagery of you guys out (kinda) laboring away the day and Dad napping.

  10. Molly P says:

    Wow, Ry! I am totally shocked…never would have thought the kid wearing only his overcoat and trumpet would scheme this way.

    I hope your kids aren’t reading this…they are going to get enough of this scoundrel-ism from their mom:)

  11. Skewdaman says:

    I find it hard to believe Greg would dump the gas/oil mix down the gutter. If the Republican party finds out about this they’ll do what they did to Leavitt and put him in charge of the EPA. Zing!!

  12. Ryan says:

    Yeah, Andrea, sometimes I did sort of wonder why you just knuckled under to the man like that.

    Brandon, unfortunately, those legal weapons were not yet a part of my arsenal. But I’ve spent a few minutes this morning imagining how much they could have improved my life back then.

    Danica- see what I mean? Tyranny.

    Molly, you’re right, that’s exactly the kind of thing you’d expect them to learn from their Mom. So glad I’ve reformed my life in order to provide one stalwart example now.

    Yeah, Skew, different times. Different times.

  13. StefStar says:

    I used to get out of cleaning the bathroom by wetting a clump of toilet paper and running it over every surface. I went through a lot of toilet paper, because it’s kind of hard to get spots and soap scum off with toilet paper. I had to scrub really, really hard. But at least I didn’t have to actually clean anything, right?
    This is all just proof that children/teenagers are mentally challenged, and I’m scared to have to deal with my own mush-for-brains kids…

  14. DAN says:

    Don’t worry Ryan, work avoidance is a teenage right of passage. At least you came up with a ploy to get out of mowing the lawn. The older I got, the less I searched for excuses to avoid my gardening obligations. By the time I was a senior in high school I could sleep right through the sound of my dad mowing the lawn (which technically was my job) without the slightest twinge of guilt. Like you, however, I’ve learned to enjoy yard work. And, I figure I’ve done penance for the misdeeds of my youth: since I moved out there has scarcely been a time when I visited my parents they haven’t been able to find for me various chores in the yard. I suppose it’s their way of getting even.

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