My grandfather taught me how to mow a yard when I was 9 years old. He started with the basic operations — pull start, throttle and the self-propel motor. As I cut, he walked by my side, reminding me to mind my lines as push as straight as possible.
He taught me to be meticulous and go back for any stray blades that might be keeping the cut from uniformity. It was important, he said, to rotate the direction you cut each time I mow. He showed me it’s healthy for the grass to be cut down and back one week and at an angle the next.
For the first three summers, mowing was like church. My grandpa has never been a religious man, but an honest and hard day’s work is his gospel. He would show up at my house on Monday mornings at 7 a.m. sharp. Grandpa Mendenhall is never late. He’d have the mower perfectly secured to his red trailer. The weed-eaters and edging equipment would be in the truck bed.
He’d start unloading the equipment and begin the work regardless if I was outside and ready. I’d usually be out of the house in my jeans and a white T-shirt by the time he fired up lawnmower.
The yard work actually started as part of a deal. I wanted a Sony Discman CD player, but we couldn’t afford a luxury like that at that time in our house. So my grandpa said he buy me the music player after a summer or yard work.
I did it, and he even threw in two CD’s — the “101 Dalmatians” score and music from “Jurassic Park: The Lost Word,” written by the great John Williams.
As I got older, my grandpa kept up the work at my house and I was right there with him. The summer of my sixth-grade year, grandpa roofed my mom’s house and I climbed the scaffold to the rooftop and nailed the shingles right by his side. At noon every day, we’d break for lunch at Subway. I always got a meatball. We painted the small one-story house the next summer.
Approaching my teen years, my grandpa continued to haul the mowing equipment to my mom’s house, but I was not as apt to get out of bed in the morning. My grandpa mowed the yard anyway, knowing my guilt and lack of a feeling of accomplishment would eventually be a motivator to bring me back. He was right.
I spent weekend trips home from college in the yard, making sure the hay field my brothers left for me was pristine by the time I left on Sundays. I grew to see mowing as cathartic — a time be inside my head and problem solve.
This weekend, Betsy and I bought our first mower for our first yard. Before our trip to the hardware store, we joined the family at grandma and grandpa Mendenhall’s house for a Mother’s Day dinner. He’s now 84, and a spill on the way to the mail box two days ago broke my grandpa’s collar bone and chipped another small piece of independence from his aging body.
But when I told him we were on our way to Mendards to buy a lawnmower, a smile came to his face. I hope he also had flashes of his 9-year-old student on the back of a John Deere push mower, struggling with the ditch and the grade but willing to learn.
Contact Mike Mendenhall at email@example.com