“I find that the harder I work, the more luck I have.” —Thomas Jefferson
“Know where I can buy a used lawn mower,” someone asked a few days ago? “Afraid not,” I said, explaining how I was a couple of years removed from owning or operating a lawn mower. Finally gave up mowing in favor of hiring it done.
There was a time when I enjoyed the pride of a well groomed yard resulting from my hard work. That time was when it didn’t take as long to recover from the aches and pains such physical labor induces. However, recalling lessons learned while walking behind a lawn mower creates a crop of good memories.
Mowing the family lawn while growing up on Redbud Street in Mount Pleasant, Texas, was part of earning an allowance—a necessity. On occasion, I also mowed my grandparent’s yard just down the road in Pittsburg, Texas. Now, that was fun. Funny how grandparents somehow make the worst tasks seem like fun.
My grandfather’s lawn mower was an old Sears and Roebuck reel-type, self-propelled, power mower, the only one of its kind I recall seeing. The old green mower with big yellow wheels and a wooden roller device trailing them personified my grandfather. Both were outdated—even then, but both were hard working and both were reliable to a fault. One pull of the starter rope and it was running and ready. Flipping a handle mounted lever released the machine to roll slowly around the yard, doing the job it was designed to do. The only work required was walking along behind the mower and keeping it on course.
Mowing the grass at home for an allowance was a chore, one of many on the list. Completion of those chores that earned my mother’s approval also earned me 25 cents a week. Not much money by today’s standards, but not bad for the late 1950s. In reality, both were chores, but somehow having to mow for my allowance was anything but my idea of fun until I figured out that walking behind the lawn mower for mom meant money in my pocket.
Soon after making that connection between working and wages, I determined that the shortest route to a raise from my quarter a week income was a summer job. So, where did I go to increase my standard of living over the two-bit allowance? Mowing yards. For at least a couple of summers after that, keeping lawns around south-side Mount Pleasant neighborhoods neatly manicured—converting green grass to green in my pockets, also converted my pocket money from the rattling kind to the folding kind.
Thinking about mowers also caused me to contemplate how many of the devices I’ve owned over the years. Although, I failed to arrive at an exact number, two recollections stuck with me.
One: in my fifty-something years of mower ownership, I owned only two riding mowers and didn’t keep either one very long. Walking behind a lawn mower was, in some unexplained way, a great time to solve the world’s problems.
Two: buying my first lawn mower. Not quite up there with my first car or my first date, but a vivid memory no less, coinciding with the purchase of my first house. It was bright yellow and performed a splendid job grooming the thick carpet of San Augustine grass surrounding my first home on Dogwood Street in Mount Pleasant. That experience miraculously turned what had been a chore into a genuine source of pride. As I admired the sight and the enjoyed the smell of newly mowed grass, I knew then what my mom was striving for when she chided me to keep the yard looking nice. It wasn’t punishment, it was pride.
I also understand the lawn mowing lesson my dad tried to instill in me long before I had mowed enough lawns to understand. “Dad,” I once asked him, “Why do parents punish their kids by making them mow the grass all the time?”
“It’s not punishment, son,” he told me. “It’s to teach the value of working to earn money. It’s about taking pride in what you do, being proud of how nice the yard looks.”
“I’d be more proud if you mowed it,” I suggested.
“You’ll understand some day,” he said. “In the meantime, let me see if I can make this lesson a little easier to understand for today. Remember that working hard to make the yard look nice will result in your mother proudly paying your allowance.”