I was chatting long-distance with our grandson in upstate New York the other day. That was a treat because we usually text or occasionally e-mail.
This time I grabbed him by phone to find out how things are going in his senior year in high school. After talking grades, girlfriends and baseball, we got down to the serious stuff. Are you working?
“Oh, yeah,” he replied. I know he is. He’s a hard working kid (school work and otherwise) and that’s what we always like to hear about our grandkids. He works at a barbecue place after school and on the weekends but soon will be back mowing lawns now that spring has sprung, plus whatever other outdoor work comes along that will help him save for college.
“Tell me about lawn mowing,” I said, because I was a mighty fine mower of lawns in my day when I was his age if I do say so myself. Well he said he has a permanent customer out in the country that he mows for. Maybe an acre and a half, couple of acres at most. Uses her garden tractor-mower and gets paid $50. Huh?!!! Fifty-dollars! Riding her tractor, using her gas, no trimming. Fifty-dollars?!! Once a week! Are you kidding me.
“Let me tell you about real lawn mowing,” I said after I caught my breath. I mowed the same size lawn in the 1940’s using my own 14” reel-type manual push mower (no engine, no gas) which I pulled behind my Schwinn bike to wherever the grass was growing and the pay was good. Took me several hours to cut that lawn. No trimming. Take home pay: $1.75. And that was good money then.
“What do you think of that?” I challenged.
“What’s a push mower?” he replied.
You can still buy a push mower, I explained, at any of the big hardware chains for under a $100, maybe a little more if you want a big time name brand. It has two molded rubber wheels (though in the old days before my “professional” mowing days we used one at home with iron wheels, no rubber). In between the wheels, there’s a reel of four or five curved blades that are set very close to a steel plate beneath so that they cut the grass sharp and even.
“Sorta the way a paper-cutter works,” I suggested.
“Yeah,” he says.
“I had to adjust it occasionally to be sure it was cutting nice and even, and of course I had to sharpen the blades by hand every so often.”
“Right,” he says. I can tell he’s impressed.
“It had a single long wooden shaft with a handle that came up waist high on me, and I pushed the mower. It’s called ‘man-power.’ Get it?”
“Yeah.” But it was one of those skeptical ‘yeahs’ You know the kind. So I ramped up my pitch.
“It would be really great for you. Build up your legs and upper-body for baseball.” I was teasin’ of course. He’s got a baseball scholarship to play for an upstate NY college. That got his attention.
“It would?” Then silence. I waited patiently to see if I’d made the sale.
“Naw,” he said, “I’ll just stick to the tractor. I can get the job done quicker and work out at the gym before I go to work at the barbecue.” Just as I was prepared to go for the kill by appealing to his environmental compass – “but wouldn’t you like to reduce your carbon footprint” – I was interrupted by the roar of one of the landscape company’s big gas-powered mowers whizzing by our apartment window. The first mowing of the year.
“Hold on a minute,” I shouted into the phone. “Can’t hear you. They’re mowing the lawn outside our apartment.” What a crew! They’ve got three or four of those big 60-inch deck mowers where the operator bounces along standing on a little wheeled platform behind the mower. You know the kind. They do the entire apartment complex in a day (including trimming and blowing off the sidewalks). I admire their skill and stamina. Legs like oak. Truth of the matter, I envy them.
Boy, I’d love to ride a tractor again. Sitting down of course. Before retiring back here for good, we spent early retirement in the rolling country-side of Virginia on a five-acre property, three of it mowable. You shoulda seen me in my dusty bib-overalls and John Deere baseball cap bumpin’ along on that 18-horsepower, 42-inch deck tractor-mower week after week, with the wind in my hair and a smile on my face. I called my tractor “Teddy,” after Roosevelt. It was a “rough rider.” What a life! Meantime, inside the barn slept an almost new 14-inch reel push mower … covered in dust … a sentimental purchase for my wife (to use around her gardens) who soon figured out there was more to life than cutting grass.
But, back to the phone call. As the roar of the engine passed the apartment window and faded away, I said, “You still there?”
My grandson replied, “Are they using push mowers, Grandpa?” Ha. Ha.
Kid’s a chip off the old block.
“Tell me about your girl friends again,” I said.
Mel Grossman is a local resident and guest columnist.