Last summer at their yard sale, Bill Kaigle gave me a toy lawn mower for my granddaughter Slade. When my girls were small they each had a wheeled toy with a handle – one was a fire engine and one was a mini shopping cart. They had a lot of fun with them, so I thought a lawn mower was just the thing. After I put it in the van, I realized Sladeybug would probably have no idea what it was, since they didn’t have a lawn mower, nor a lawn either.
When I was young, someone gave us a little reel lawn mower which we kept at the farm. I liked it a lot, and the best fun was when Uncle Mike mowed with his reel lawnmower. Those old mowers, being entirely people-powered, did not fling pebbles as lethal projectiles, even if Uncle Mike had not patrolled the lawn ahead of time checking for stones thrown up from the gravel road, which he did. Therefore it was safe for me to follow him around the yard with my mower when he was cutting grass. I liked this best, because then mine would spit up the grass he had just mowed, and it looked like I was actually mowing, too. Of course if I got enough, I could put my machine away and invent another game while Uncle Mike actually finished the lawn.
After he was done with the mowing, he always got down with his hand clippers and touched up the edges. He had arthritis pretty badly, so getting up and down was hard on his knees, but he was never finished until he had attended the details to his satisfaction. He wasn’t a fidgety perfectionist, but he had standards. When he was done, he’d sit in the barn-red Adirondack chair Dad made for him and smoke his pipe a bit, surveying his work. My favorite photo of him has him sitting in that chair in his jeans and red flannel shirt, looking ready to get up and go.
I have a hard time telling you how things sounded. There was a wonderful sound the mower made as he advanced around the yard. Uncle Mike kept his tools sharp and oiled so they worked smoothly so the sounds were measured, not balky. His pace was slow but steady. The angled blades swirled the grass away as they cut, and there was an order to things. After the lawn mower was put away, the minor music of the clippers snipping was a peaceful slow movement toward completion. I can hear it yet – clip, clip clip – then a pause as he moved to the next tree or flower bed to neaten the edges.
Slade and her family moved at the end of May. When I came to visit, I freed the little mower from the van and we played around their big backyard with it. It has bits of plastic “grass” in a revolving bubble and, unlike mine, has a face and chattering “teeth” to champ at the lawn. It had a pull cord and a switch. We ran around and chased each other, avoiding the teeth, but I wasn’t at all sure she connected it to anything from the real world. During the first couple of weeks in their new place, someone gave them a lawnmower that needed tinkering. Dave tinkered it and then started mowing the backyard. Slade watched him and then got very excited. She looked at her mom and waved at her toy and obviously made the connection.
A few days later she dragged me to the back of the yard, convincing me to carry her mower. There she showed me how to open the doors of the shed and proudly put her mower inside, next to the big one. Lawnmowers as a family tradition – who knew? Uncle Mike would smile.