Sunday, May 17, 2009


Is there anyone who doesn't hate their lawnmower? Or is that just me? Over the course of a long marriage I have come to believe that the spouse who cuts the grass should choose the mower...but that has not been the case with us.

What I fondly call "Lawn Mower Wars" began early on when I realized my husband doesn't like to cut grass. Nor does he like to rake leaves, but that's another story for another season. I, on the other hand, used to like cutting grass. In fact one of my fondest childhood memories is of my patient Uncle Al teaching me to use his powerful self-propelled (as in take a dive into the woods) lawnmower and allowing me at age 8 to maneuver it over my grandmother's acre or so of a "backyard". Come to think of it there may have been an ulterior motive there too...

Anyway, lawnmower selection was done by my husband from year one - or rather three, when we bought our first house. Our first mower was a serviceable machine quite capable of cutting our big, country lawn that dipped in odd places and from which thorny patches grew. It is interesting to me that in all of the lawn-cutting pictures of that time, and there are many as it was our first house, I am the one behind the "wheel" so to speak. About that time Dick also bought an old-fashioned pushmower. As far as I could see it bent the grass over rather than cutting it, but he liked it so I didn't say anything, grateful for the enthusiastic, if infrequent, help.

I am not a fan of lawns in general. I have taken over more and more of ours for gardens, which pose their own set of problems of course. I have plans to dig up even more lawn this summer in an effort to conquer a back-breaking hill in front of our house. But a patch of green is nice in front of the flower border and I love the smooth, undulating expanse of our back field which is mostly grass and lupine. It gives me pleasure to see the neat line of mown lawn - a demarcation between the tamed backyard and the wildness of the meadow after the grass is cut. And of course the scent of newly mown grass is one that takes us all back to lazy days lying on our backs and watching the cloud circus roll by.

So lawns in their place are fine, and now we are back to the issue of the lawnmower.

When we first moved to Maine we bought a new one. We were assured by the man at the local hardware store that it would tackle "puckerbrush" and would be an excellent "bush-hog". This proved to be incorrect, although it did an average job on the lawn. The blades, dulled by frequent collisions with man-sized boulders lurking under the surface, had to be replaced regularly and the self-propel mechanism died the first year. It served us fairly well, but after several seasons of rough use it became apparent that we needed a new one. Let the Wars begin.

First, Dick resurrected the old manual from the barn. (I had thought we sold it at the yardsale we held in New Jersey before moving, but somehow it made it to Maine.) This lasted exactly a day when there was a major confrontation in the front yard regarding whose responsibility it was to cut the grass and who should be allowed, in consequence, the choice of weapons. Fortunately, the pushmower capitulated all by itself by jettisoning it's handle into the blades on the next pass around the lawn. We (I) struggled along that summer with the old gas-powered machine, but late that August Dick came home with a bargain "for you"...a mower he found at a yardsale for "only $75". Now my opinion of yardsale lawnmowers is not high, but when the machine started right up and roared off with him behind it across our lawn I began to feel better. The big wheels in the rear of the cutting area enabled us to hip-hop the machine over hummocky spots and the blades ground up roots and thorny shrubs with gusto.

I figure that when Dick bought that mower it was already about two or three years old. That was 12 years ago and "old reliable" as he calls it has outlived two newer more expensive models although now it is really showing its age.

About 8 years ago the handle for the choke fell off and we now have to jimmy the wire out when starting the machine, and in when we want it to stop. The pull cord for the starter broke years ago and was first knotted together and its handle replaced with a sturdy stick (not ideal) but has now, thank goodness, been replaced. The baffle on the back that prevents rocks and gouts of grass from shooting out from under the blades has been gnawed off in several places; the chute on the side that directs clippings into the non-existent collection bag (did we ever have one?) is hanging on by one fastener and there is an odd piece of unidentifiable but very strong and rigid metal projecting out of the opening. The sound the machine makes as it goes up hills is a terrifying rattle that always makes me think that at any moment some loose engine part that has been bouncing around inside the guts will suddenly propel itself through the housing and hit me in the eye. The padding around the handle has long ago disappeared and been replaced with foam fastened down with that machine maintenance essential, duct tape. It's rusty, moldy, and noisy. The front wheels are cantilevered at an angle that surely can't be intentional.

I hate the thing.

But it starts. And with the new blades Dick put on last fall, it cuts the grass. So what if I have to haul it around like a sack of concrete?

So what if I feel like I have been inside a jet engine and have trouble lifting my arms over my head after mowing the grass for an hour? So what if my sneakers and the cuffs of my jeans are covered so thickly, post-mow, with grass clippings that I have to use a paint scraper to clean myself up?

It starts. And it cuts the grass. And life goes on.