I ended my mowing season last year on a perfect note. I had resolved to keep mowing as long as possible—like my neighbor Joe—so that when spring came my lawn would turn from brown to green instantaneously just like his. In these parts we judge a man by his lawn, and in these parts, Joe sets the standard. I had finished mowing all of the front yard and about a quarter of the back when I found a cinderblock with my lawnmower.
The cinderblock-seeking feature of this mower had not been one of its selling points, and I would have remembered because it was only a year old. So young, so young.
I come from a part of the world—Southern Oklahoma—where the concept of a lawn is a new one. We mowed the grass to keep the snakes away, or to make them easier to find and kill. But I find that I am taking on the color of my surroundings, and my neighbor has been a good influence. I have finally seen that keeping a good lawn is one of the traits of a righteous man.
So complete is my conversion that I spent part of the autumn doing something that would have made my grandfather turn over in his grave. I actually sowed grass seed and watered it.
Grandpa spent a good part of his life trying to kill grass. My grandmother was a woman who feared the Lord—possibly the Lord feared her as well—and took that part of the Bible that says, “How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband?” quite seriously. She used mowing as a means of grace.
Grandpa’s theology was a bit different. His response was to set the mower as low to the ground as possible and make the dirt fly when he mowed. When this is done to a lawn in mid-July in Southern Oklahoma, that lawn tends to enter into a “dormant” stage, which differs little in appearance from death.
Some men just won’t be saved.
One of the first things that I did when I moved to Pittsburg was buy a lawnmower. I bought the cheapest one that I could find with the idea that I would work my way up. When I got tenure, I would get a better mower. When I got promoted, I would upgrade again, and when I made Full Professor, perhaps—dare I dream—a riding lawnmower.
I deliberately abused the machine. I tried weaning it from oil. Whenever I became frustrated with something, I would startup the mower and walk behind it cursing lest I teach my children foul language. That is what we send them to school for, after all.
It lasted for years. I could never justify buying a new one because it just kept going. I mowed down small trees. It kept going. The frame rusted through on one corner, and one of the wheels came off, but it kept going.
I mowed with it for two years while it was in that condition, and then out of pure depravity, I bought a new one. It was a beauty. Self-propelled. Sweet. I was on my way up the ladder as I had planned. Maybe I was a little behind, but what the heck? It was self-propelled.
The second time that I mowed with it I hit a stump and ruined it. I brought the old, three-wheeled mower out of retirement to finish out the season.
Finally—after ten years of loyal service—I gave it away to a needy couple in the neighborhood who divorced almost immediately. I feel somehow responsible even now.
Then came the mower that I found the cinderblock with. The memory haunts me yet: A grinding sound, a pool of blackness forming beneath it, the sound of my own sobbing. Gone, gone.
Perhaps I am seeking to set myself too far above my station. A man should not think himself better than his grandfather. Grandpa was wise. He knew that while some might attain righteousness by mowing, it is not for such as we. The way of the lawn is not our way.
I went today and bought a new mower. It is exactly like the first one; it was the cheapest that they had. I will try to destroy it.