And God said “Let it rain!” And it rained.
The tree buds were confused. The flower bulbs were confused. But everyone living in the Sunset Gardens gated community knew exactly what it meant. It was time to start cutting grass.
The unusually-warm winter season was ending and the signs of Spring’s arrival were everywhere to be seen. With February temperatures reaching the mid-seventies during the latter days of the month, fields and forests were prematurely turning from brown to green, confused by the abundant warmth and consistent rains. Ask any climate expert for the reason behind the increased temperatures and they’ll reply “Global Warming!”. Well, half of the experts anyway. The other half contribute it to a historically-normal fluctuation of the Earth’s temperature. But who’s correct is of little importance to the residents tending to the lawns of Sunset Gardens.
The telephone over at Shultzberger’s Small Engine Repair Shop had been ringing off the hook for the better part of two weeks. The grass doesn’t cut itself, and as any lawn owner worth his weight in grass seed will tell you, you gotta have sharp blades on your mower to produce a Warwick Castle-looking lawn. Sharp blades and an oil change. And a clean air filter. And some fresh gasoline. New batteries for the Walkman would be nice. And some sunscreen. Nothing too floral. At least 50 SPF.
Don Edwards was the only original resident still living in Sunset Gardens because he was the only one still living. His presence there was deep-rooted. Out in his stylish tool shed, sitting at the back edge of his property, were mementos of lawn grass cultivation amassed over the past six decades. Thrashers and sickles, and other things that could be used in thaying a funny limerick (Martha Thrasher Threw Thickles Through the Threshold). But to reach the assortment of rusty metal trimmers and hand-forged hand shears, you’d have to move aside several pieces of modern lawn-war equipment out of your way. The 1967 Troy-Built Horse, which Don openly admits hadn’t been used in over 10-years, proudly sits beside the now-defunct grass catcher attachment (the use of which was advised against by an expert speaking at a Southern States seminar four-years-ago). The rototiller hadn’t been used since Don had decided to stop planting flower bulbs and things that you could eat, cutting his trim-time down by a good twenty minutes.
Arnold Fleming had two out-buildings. One was a prefabricated aluminum building from Home Depot, in which he stored his small tractor and unused snow blower. The other unit was an elegant wooden building, painted Carolina Blue with white trim, topiary planters flanking the hinged double-doors. It had been hand-crafted by an Amish family who lived down below Prichardsville. The building served as his own personal Man Space, with wood-working tools used as his excuse to be there, a small AM/FM radio for entertainment, and a college-sized refrigerator that somehow never ran empty of Old Milwaukee’s Light. Arnold and his wife had come to an understanding during their fifty-seven years of marriage. She never bothered him while he absolutely had to do some wood-working for a few hours, and instead bides her time gambling online in poker tournaments, a vice to which she had never confessed. But for some reason, perhaps a woman’s intuition, she felt confident that Arnold would be okay with her dirty, little secret.
Ever since Abraham Levitt and his sons began to offer pre-sodded lawns with every house that they built back in the late 1940’s, a man’s social status had become associated with the appearance of his front lawn. While mowing his own beautiful lawn, Arnold Fleming (a huge Levitt& Sons Fan) usually wore a souvenir t-shirt that he had bought while on an educational tour of famous agrostology sites of the East Coast. It proudly reads “I’ve Bought Grass in Levittown, New York. Legally!”
Coinciding with the assumption that every house in America will have a large, well-maintained lawn that’s relatively free of trees, came the return home of U.S. soldiers from Europe after the end of WWII. The G.I. Bill made affordable housing available to every post-war serviceman.
The first origins of a word that would evolve into today’s word ‘lawn’, can be traced back to 15th century Europe. Areas around the castles of the wealthy would be cleared of trees to increase the odds of seeing an approaching enemy. The ‘laune’ would be maintained by the residents of the castle’s surrounding villages, their own goats and sheep grazing upon the grasses of this shared, common ground. Ergo, “Commoners, the Common Man”.
Between the two World Wars, the upkeep of a well-groomed lawn developed into a source of personal pride, a social activity between family and neighbors, and eventually a boost to property values (the flames of a change in thinking stoked by fertilizer company advertising campaigns). A Man and His Castle. And Lawn.
The Home Owners Association of Sunset Gardens had a strict list of guidelines when it came to the exterior appearance of the properties in its community. Sometime during the last sixty-years, lawn maintenance had become a Man’s Job. Sure, women were expected to trim their bushes from time to time (pause), but the Man’s place was on his lawnmower. With one exception, over on Hillyard Drive…
Sally Wellington was a single mother of two, and was herself a daughter’s age compared to the demographics of the mostly retired residents of the neighborhood. She stood out as different, being much younger and full of energy. She went to work each Monday through Friday and drove a bright-red Ford Mustang. The Widow who lived up the street from Sally, Eleanor Cumberstock, had used a lawn service for years, beginning the week after the Goldsmith’s grandson had mowed down her prized petunias, thinking that they were weeds. But Sally, just like her car’s namesake, was bucking the system and mowing her own grass. The other women of the neighborhood were perplexed by the lack of protests coming from their husbands. A woman will never become president (the men would say), but it was okay for this young woman to perform the time-honored manly duty of lawn mowing? Mustang Sally (a moniker used amongst the husbands) didn’t seem to be much of a gardener according to their flabbergasted wives.
“That foolish girl’s going to sunburn something terrible after three-hours on that mower, wearing that bikini top”
“How can she bend over to pick a weed wearing those tight pink shorts?”
But the husbands didn’t see it that way. They saw it from the mailbox, the driveway, the back patio; from any nonchalant vantage point, the moment that Mustang Sally started her mower’s engine.
The husbands hadn’t been as welcoming to the new neighbors over on Summit Drive, Timothy (“My friends back home call me Tiny for some reason”) and Michelle Timmons. The couple was relocating to the country after both had taken an early retirement from a high-tech company way-out in California’s Silicon Valley. They spoke with a strange accent, walked fast everywhere, and drove a Chevy Volt, not a Buick.
But what was most unsettling about Mr. & Mrs. Timmons were different comments that they were rumored to have said.
“We were thinking about replacing the Kentucky Blue with creeping varieties of thyme and rosemary. Perhaps bordered with lavender.”
“Did you know that more gasoline was spilled last year refilling mowers than was spilled by the Exxon Valdez?”
“Last year, Americans spent 2.4 Billion minutes working on lawn care!”
Jack Henderson, the retired Army drill instructor, wasn’t impressed.
“Well there, Mr. Tiny Timmons. May I call you Tiny? I’ve gotta hurry up to the Mobile station and get a gallon of gasoline so I can finish mowing the back forty. Mommy’s roasting-up a spotted owl for dinner and she doesn’t like it when I’m out here dilly-dallying in the backyard”
Early the next morning, Don Edwards was microwaving himself some instant oatmeal. Even without his hearing aids, he sensed the presence of a gas-powered engine and the hum of mower blades as the deck was lowered to the grass. A quick glance out of the kitchen window confirmed his suspicions. Arnold Fleming was cutting the first lap of his front yard. Don abandoned the oatmeal, grabbed a banana, and headed out to the shed. That was the Law of the Lawn.
On the next street over, Russell Whitaker had already finished mowing for the day. He was hand shining his mower’s engine cover with a sheep’s wool buffing cloth, after having washed it with the garden hose then drying the machine with his cordless electric leaf blower.
The battle against the invasive crabgrass continued throughout the morning.
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Jack Anderson insightfully summed-up the energy-draining morning, as he took a pause from helping Arnold Fleming tinker with his Cub Cadet LX46’s drive belt tension.
“You smell that, Arnold? Do you smell that? Fresh cut grass, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of fresh cut grass in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill of crabgrass, mowed it for 12 hours. When it was all over, I walked up. We didn’t find one of ’em, not one stinkin’ blade of crabgrass. The smell, you know that fresh cut grass smell, the whole hill. Smelled like . . . victory. Someday this mowing’s gonna end.”
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