One of the highlights of my recent vacation was that I got a chance to cut grass. I went back to the Midwest and mowed the lawns of my relatives.
I got a kick out of firing up the power mowers and bringing the once unruly blades of grass into line.
Part of the reason I enjoyed mowing the lawns was that I don't have to do it on a weekly basis. The "lawn," or back yard, of my city row house is about the size of a golf green. But thanks to my children, the back yard has taken on the appearance of a sand trap. Not much grass grows there, and any vegetation that not been stomped down or flooded out can be quickly trimmed with a push mower.
The lawns of my kinfolk, however, are wide and verdant. My relatives live in the suburbs of Kansas City. Their grasslands seem to be constantly groomed. So one day when I was back in Kansas City for a family reunion, I helped my brother cut his lawn. The next day I helped my dad mow his.
No one seemed willing to believe that I was actually having fun as I pushed the mower around. But I was.
One reason I was in this "the-joy-of-mowing" mood was that cutting grass reminded me of my youth. That is what I did as a kid. I cut grass. And until I got older and discovered the joys of driving cars and dancing with girls, cutting grass was pretty satisfying stuff. It gave me a sense of responsibility. It gave me some cash. And it gave me an excuse to drink big bottles of Pepsi.
Those thoughts came back to me recently as I pushed a throbbing power mower back and forth across the front yard of my parents' house. They weren't the only thoughts I had. As sweat trickled down my back and dust flew in the air, I also thought: "Man, am I glad I left town, went to college and got a desk job."
My willingness to cut grass produced mixed reactions from my relatives. The local lawn-cutters whose yards I was working on generally stayed holed up in the air-conditioned house, smiling. But other visiting relatives, men and boys who dutifully do battle with the lawns of Memphis, Chicago and Boston, wandered out to the driveway shaking their heads in disbelief, and inviting me to visit them and mow their yards.
I went along with their good-natured jibes . . . their remarks calling me a "sucker" and their comparisons between my volunteering to cut the grass and the characters in "Tom Sawyer" paying Tom to whitewash a fence. I indulged them because I knew that most mowers have a love-hate relationship with their lawns.
I could have asked them, for instance, why if they really did not want their grass to grow, did they spend so much time watering their lawns? And why did they feed the grass fertilizer?
The answer is, of course, that these guys didn't just cut the grass, they tended lawns. They were the ones who had planted the grass seeds, who had weeded, cultivated, and nurtured. In short, they were the ones who watched the grass grow.
That is the trouble with tending lawns: It is habit-forming. Oncyou get involved in its upbringing, it is hard to turn your back on your lawn. And when you have stood at the helm of a 2 1/2 -horsepower mower as transforms a spiky disorder into pleasing symmetry, it is a feeling that is hard to forget.
On the other hand, I am content to remember that feeling about once a year. I'm happy to go back to the prairies and mow 'em down.