Life’s Funny

Turf Luck

Mowing with the flow in suburbia

By Maria Johnson

Timing is everything, but the more seasons that pass, the more I see that timing is nothing unless you have the right tools and experience to use when opportunity presents itself.

Take our lawn mower.

Please.

For 20-plus years, we — and by “we” I mean my husband — managed our half-acre Eden with a gigantic walk-behind mower, a self-propelled Troy-Bilt purchased soon after we moved in.

Jeff claimed to love using Big Red. Lulled by the motor’s drone, marching to whatever cadence the height of the grass dictated, he entered a Zen state that full-throated shouts and piercing whistles failed to penetrate.

He passed (pressed?) the experience onto our sons, who learned that walking behind a 300-pound machine is one thing. Turning it is quite another. Hence, one learns to smooth corners into curves.

Jeff tended Big Red lovingly, changing the oil, replacing the air filter, replacing the front wheels as needed, carving out a snug parking place in the garage. It was a beautiful relationship. Until the mower wouldn’t crank.

Jeff called in my motor-head brother for a garage consultation. They circled the patient, prodded, postulated. Indicating the severity of the situation, they consulted the owner’s manual and diagnosed the problem: a bad valve.

They carried their findings to a farm machinery dealer, who delivered a grim news: It would cost almost as much to fix the engine as it would to buy a new mower.

We all knew what that meant: Big Red was a goner.

“Oh, well,” I said. After all, we had a smaller mower, too, and over the years, we’d expanded the natural areas and shrunk the lawn. That was a good thing, right?

Jeff was morose.

He parked Big Red in its usual berth, where it lay in state for weeks.

Occasionally, I asked when we could shuck our black armbands and wheel the deceased to the curb. Soon, he promised. Soon.

Yard life moved on, but the garage was getting crowded and therefore, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I submit that a reasonable person could expect that one night I would pull our new car into the garage and scratch the bumper a little — OK, a lot — on a seed spreader that had been displaced by a new de-thatcher because Big Red was taking up so much space.

This on the eve of our neighborhood yard sale.

Early the next morning, Jeff and Big Red said their goodbyes. I gave them time alone.

The dew was still on the clover when Jeff donned his mowing cap and green-stained running shoes and wheeled the mower to a grassy corner where curb met driveway. He walked back to the house, head down.

He had taped a sign to the handle: “FREE. DOES NOT RUN.”

Acceptance being the final stage of grief, I reasoned, it was time to enjoy the show.

I poured another cup of coffee and perched by a window as the cul-de-sac clogged with cars full of early morning bargain hunters. In less than three minutes, a pickup truck backed up to the curb. A young man and two women got out, flipped down the tailgate and circled the mower. The guy stooped to lift the front. The women took the sides.

“They’re never gonna lift that thing,” Jeff said.

He was right. The trio rotated: Nada.

Rotated again: Nope.

The guy leaned on the handles and popped a wheelie as the women tried to lift the front: Sorry.

They piled in the truck and drove away, we guessed in search of a ramp.

Would the mower be there when they returned? The drama intensified.

In less than two minutes, another truck backed up to the same spot.

This time, two middle-aged fellows — obviously in need of hernias — emerged.

Same dance steps — heave-sigh, heave-sigh, heave-sigh, damn — plus a good measure of spitting and standing with hands on hips. They, too, rumbled away frustrated.

Oh, to have had a stand selling lemonade and ramps.

I found it rather honorable that neither group had removed the mower’s up-for-grabs sign. It enhanced my faith in humans.

But not as much as the next guy who walked up. He was a white-haired fellow with a belly that said he’d digested whatever life had served. He studied the mower, disappeared for a moment, and reappeared in the driveway in his surfer-style Chevy wagon, an ideal vehicle for stuffing with yard sale finds.

Aha. A different approach.

Using the slight incline of the driveway as a ramp, he rolled the mower to the truck, tipped it back and rested the front wheels on his bumper.

“Still too heavy,” Jeff said.

Sure enough.

But the old fellow was too close to quit. He drew a bead on the house across the street, which had attracted a crowd. Leaving the mower propped on his bumper — in other words, “It’s mine” — he walked across the street and returned a few minutes later with two strapping guys.

Together, they easily picked up the rear end of the mower and slid it into the hold.

Violà.

Granddad had the right tool — the low-slung surfer truck. He used the advantage at hand — the driveway. He claimed the ground he’d gained. Plus, he asked for help. We couldn’t help but laugh and feel good about whatever lay in Big Red’s next life.

Mow in peace.  OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry.

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