Ah, summer! Time for swimming, fishing, and vacations at the shore. And, alas, when your lawn seemingly begins to re-sprout immediately in your lawnmower’s wake.
Everything I know about mowing the lawn I learned from my father. Unfortunately for me, his leading inspiration was the grounds of Augusta National.
Knowing that, you can perhaps understand when I point out that there is a distinction between “cutting the grass” and “mowing the lawn.” The former is merely inane labor, meant for the uncaring and uninformed masses, while the latter is visceral and thoughtful, nothing short of art, with a Briggs and Stratton engine powering the brush.
My dad was realist enough to know that the scraggly run-of-the-mill Bermuda grass eking out a tedious survival in the hard red clay soil of sun-baked middle Georgia, grass that never saw hydro-assistance short of what the Good Lord deemed to send its way — this grass was never going to look like a green at the Amen Corner. But, by God and “amen,” it could indeed be mown to give a hint of the look of a fairway!
The technique for this was relatively simple. Your first cutting swath had to be arrow-straight, accomplished by setting your eye on a point in the distance, aiming the left front wheel of the mower to that point, and never blinking as you moved with unwavering step to that point with the mower a’roar. Then, you turned the mower and, with caution and purpose, put the wheel exactly in the imprint left by the wheel from the first pass, and went the other direction. Repeat until finished.
You must remember, this was in the days before zero turn radius behemoth lawn tractors with self-adjusting terrain responsive cutting decks, cup holders, umbrellas, 60-plus inch cutting widths, and mulching blades awhirl. Oh, no! This was done with a 22-inch flat deck, side discharge push mower with 5-inch wheels, purchased at Western Auto for the princely sum of around $25.
Then, one day, there appeared the Yazoo Lawnmower, with the requisite 5-inch wheels on the front, but with the technological advancement of the ages, big 12-inch wire spoke wheels on the rear. And a price tag to match. Thankfully, it wasn’t very long before Western Auto began to carry a knockoff, but even one of those bad boys was going to set you back at least 45 bucks! And I wanted one. Dad wasn’t going to come off of the hip, but he said I was welcome to buy one for my own if I wanted. I had been saving my earnings from my paper routes – Macon Telegraph in the morning and Macon News in the afternoon – and summer was approaching. I could recoup my expenses and be turning a profit well before the recall to school just after Labor Day.
Thus began my many-summered career of grass cutting. Yes, you read that correctly. For, while my parents’ lawn was to be mowed, other people simply had grass that needed to be cut. They weren’t interested in my artistic abilities; they just wanted to be able to see where I had thrown their morning or afternoon paper. Seventy-five cents would get your front yard cut, and another seventy-five would cover your back yard. Tall grass didn’t matter because I had a “big wheel” mower. Dad insisted I buy my own gas for the mower, since it was my show. Plus, he got his lawn mowed for free, always to produce the prescribed “fairway cut.” Even when we moved into a house with a yard a half city block long. You could see the cut lines for a long time coming down the street from either direction, and they had to be perfect.
The years passed, and except for my parents’ lawn and the summer when my Dad “contracted” me to mow the lawn at Mr. Gillespie’s house, I abandoned my nascent lawn service. Cars and girls intervened, and the job at the soda fountain of the Miller Hills Pharmacy negated my need to make my money at the handle of a lawnmower. College and life in general afterward completed the break, although when I once found myself briefly between jobs, I managed to embarrass my kids into hysteria when I mowed lawns in the neighborhood to make ends meet for a couple of weeks.
I was fortunate to marry well the second time around. “Well” in this case translates to, “I married a woman who will mow the lawn while I am at work.” You’ve just gotta love a woman like that!
Then it happened. We moved to Brunswick, and after one complete, brutal summer behind a push mower on a lawn considerably larger than the one we had left behind, we committed sin. In deference to the coastal heat – and to age — we bought a lawn tractor. This caused in an evolutionary and irreversible shift in the alignment of the planets.
Our lawn tractor was the last of a line of reasonably priced mowers being pushed off of the product offering list by Home Depot in order to make way for the high-dollar John Deere and ZTR mowers. It cannot be anything but cosmic coincidence that Home Depot’s stock began to plummet shortly afterward.
Because our mower does not turn on a dime, we have discovered the art of what we’ve come to call “contour mowing,” a rational geometric dynamic wherein the limits of the mower’s turning radius and the ever-decreasing concentric mass of the grass remaining to be mowed, plus trees and flower beds to be circumvented, determines the pattern of the mowing. And there is a sublime bonus. Because, to turn the mower we sometimes have to cut at angles to already mowed grass, we have stumbled upon “pattern mowing,” like that evident in major sports venues. I am convinced that were I able to float over my house in the Goodyear blimp — or at least to climb to the ridge of my neighbor’s roof — I’d see something that rivals even the best abilities of the groundskeepers at The Ted.
My Dad would be so proud.