Affair on the Lawn

The sweet smell of labor


By Susan Kelly

You cut the grass, but you mow the lawn. You know this, right? When I’m rich, my lawn is going to be mowed — by someone else — every other day. Few things in life impart the magnificent sense of peace with order, with aroma, with achievement, with a big, breathy sigh of satisfaction than a newly mowed yard. In spring, it’s that first haircut. In summer, it’s the bare feet feel and the dog lying in the dappled shade. In fall, it’s the only yard work you can do that gets at all the leaves. Temporarily, sure, but still. Even on bad years, years of crabgrass and violets, you can adopt the maxim “If it’s green, mow it,” and be content with the results.

The tidy lines! The gridded crisscrosses! The crew cut nap! Who doesn’t love the look and the feel?

There’s not a kid alive who doesn’t long to drive something, anything, with a motor, even if a chore is involved, like mowing the grass. When I was 11, my friends had mini-bikes, but I had a Cub Cadet riding mower. “You have to wear shoes,” my father said sternly when he handed over the key, and the implicit threat of chopping off my foot meant that I broad-jumped onto the platform over the lethal blades from three feet out. “And watch what you run over,” he went on, meaning roots, rocks, anything that might shoot out and, you know, put out someone’s eye. (After several unfortunate Cub Cadet encounters with trowels and clippers, my father took this warning a step further and spray-painted every handle in the tool shed fluorescent orange.)

To this day, when I’m driving along and pass someone cutting their grass with a “tractor mower,” as we called it, I can feel the big, nearly horizontal steering wheel, ridged for fingers far larger than mine, in my hands. Listen: One year we had a family Christmas card taken behind the wheel of that Cub Cadet.

For many years, we used the lawn mower that euphemistically “came with the house” along with the mortgage. Rather, my husband did. Not that I can’t mow the lawn myself. I love yanking that choke rope and getting the greasy motor to crank. The sputter and catch. That growl into power is the sound of Saturday mornings, which my small children spent draped around my husband’s neck like human shawls as he mowed the lawn.

I mean, I can do it. Really. But it looks better when he does.

When that mower gave out — I might have forgotten the correct ratio of oil to gas and ruined its insides — my husband debated buying an old-fashioned rotary mower. It’s ecologically sound (self-mulches); doesn’t make any noise (gentle whir); and produces the perfect trim — if you have a stamp-sized patch of lawn in London. While the image is appealing, the notion that such a dainty device could chew up, chop down and spit out our grass is hilarious. We might as well have dug out the children’s plastic lawnmowers, the ones they used when they tooled along behind their father. (I did what I’ve learned to do with these kinds of spousal schemes: Leave them alone and it’ll go away, like your mother told you about wasps.)

But wait. About the for-hire yard army tackling my yard every other day: I take back that wish. Where’s the pleasure in perpetual striped perfection? Where’s the satisfaction of DIY? Where’s the olfactory thrill in that just-cut scent, something between a watermelon slice and a tomato stem? No, no. It’s simply too wonderful to personally watch those parallel lines appear, a verdant carpet emerging before your eyes. And there’s something creepy about watching three mow, blow and go guys tackling grass gone wild.

But there’s nothing strange about watching your husband do the same thing.  OH

Susan Kelly is a blithe spirit, author of several novels, and proud new grandmother.

Recommended Posts