Sunday, May 5, 2019

Reminiscing: Mowing Grandma's Yard, Learning to Drive

Patience & Corliss trying to mow the lawn with the tractor.
My wife usually takes Tuesday afternoons after work to go visit her grandparents to see if they need anything. This became especially vital after her grandfather had a stroke several years ago and needed more help around the house than he cared to ever admit. Now that spring is finally here and there’s a lot of work to be done with her grandfather to help, Wendy doubly makes sure she’s able to lend a helping hand.

This past Tuesday, she called me while she was on her way over to the house (she has hands-free through the radio before you knuckleheads start complaining). She figured she would have to mow at least a little of the yard when she got there. When she pulled up to the house, she was amazed to see that the yard had been mowed, except where the water was standing. Wendy only had to do the trim work.

This had me reminiscing about the days when I was younger when we used to have to mow the lawns for both my grandmothers. Both lived in Lyndonville, across town from each other. If you’ve been to Lyndonville, you know that doesn’t mean they lived very far apart. They each had big yards. One of them had a triple lot, while the other had what could have been considered a double lot with a deep setback. They were big yards.

With yards of that size, the only way to mow them was with a tractor rather than a push mower. I lived in the city with a typical city lot of 75x150, and had a pool taking up a greater portion of the backyard. Our mower was a simple push mower. The tractors at each of my grandmothers’ houses were a special treat for us. I especially liked it. It gave me the illusion of driving a car. I was twelve years old when I started mowing my grandmother’s yard, so this was kind of a big deal.

The thing at grandma’s house was that getting the mower out of the garage meant the car had to be pulled out first. At first, my grandmother would pull the car out and then get the tractor started for me. It wasn’t very long, however, before it was me putting the car in reverse and backing slowly out of the garage and down the driveway. That was my first real driving experience. I would drive the car up and down the driveway at 13 years old before mowing the lawn. And after I was finished mowing, I would put the car back into the garage. Granted, that was a little bit scarier than backing it out. I wasn’t sure of the spatial aspects of the vehicle and was afraid of driving right through the back wall into the field behind the house.
There were two other things that stand out clearly in my memories of the tractor at grandma’s house. The first was that her Boston Terrier, Duffy, used to lose his mind whenever he saw that tractor come out of the garage. He would bark incessantly from his side of the fence, trying to get through the chain link to attack the tractor. My grandmother used to say that my dad had something to do with his reaction. I’ve never actually heard what happened. The second thing was that it had a white steering wheel. I’d never seen a white steering wheel, so I thought it was something special, especially since I used to mow the yard like I was driving a car.

At my other grandmother’s house, I didn’t have to mow as often. My other cousins lived in the immediate area, so they did it more often than I did. There were times that I had to mow there, though. The tractor at this house was not quite as ready for use my a teenager as the other tractor. My dad would often not let me drive it, although I did get to use it on occasion. Mostly what I did was push mow one part of the yard while he rode the tractor in the other side of the house.

This yard was pretty large. The house sat on the middle lot, leaving a very tiny front yard and a small backyard. Each of the side yards was its own building lot, so there was a lot of green to cut each week. I would barely get half of one of the side yards done before my dad was tooling around on the tractor. Then it was my job to use the push mower to get the trim work done.

One of the things that I learned from mowing the lawn with my dad was the importance of keeping the lines straight. I know it drives my wife crazy that all the lines in the yard at our house need to be straight after all is said and done. It definitely drives me crazy if the lines are curved or overlap too much. My poor kids sometimes get the brunt of it when I see the jagged lines in the yard. It really isn’t that big of a deal because those lines have disappeared in a day or so. I just need to get over that part. But, really, looking at a freshly mowed lawn with straight lines is a beautiful thing.

Over the years of mowing my grandmother’s yards, I learned some important lessons. Obviously the biggest lesson was to help out your family without expecting to be rewarded with anything more than a hug, a thank you, and a chance to drive the car. Another was in the fine art of creating a beautiful yard with the mower. I wish I could still do as well as I used to, but with a large family, time sometimes becomes an issue. Learning to drive the car in and out of the garage was another important lesson that would serve me well as an adult driver.

I had a lot of fun mowing those lawns. Some might think that’s crazy, but driving that tractor with my Walkman on, I was the ruler of my own world for the couple hours it took to mow the grass. And I got to drive the car, even if it was only in and out of the garage and up and down the driveway.

Craig Bacon wrote this article while his wife mowed the lawn at their house. Literally.