The smell of freshly cut grass always takes me back to the summers of my childhood. My younger brother and I shared the responsibility of mowing an elderly widow’s yard every summer, a kind woman who we all had come to know very well. We spent time visiting her and her late husband when we were younger, so it really wasn’t much of a chore but an honorable duty. We called her ‘grandma’, though I think she privately despised it.
Whenever her grass began looking unkempt we hauled down dad’s old side-bagger Briggs and Stratton and spent what seemed like a whole day mowing. Not only was her lawn expansive, but very intricately landscaped. The backyard was a very quaint and shady respite with lots of shrubbery and herringbones of railroad ties, so maneuvering the old mower became a matter of efficient geometry. I’m pretty sure this is where I developed my mowing technique. I would trace the perimeter of the area of what I was going to mow by ‘cutting in’ and then, very meticulously, I would strive to make the straightest mowing lines possible. Even trees that fell in the path of my ‘lines’ I would carefully swerve around, back up, and continue on my ‘line’ as if the tree were not there.
After the task was complete, I’d report to the front door, ring the doorbell and await the wrought iron storm door to open. Some days she would invite me in for a short visit, which on hot summer days I appreciated very much because she had a window ac unit to keep it cool. Pay day was either by cash or check – you could expect four crisp Washingtons and a Kennedy half dollar or a beautifully printed check. Having been a perfectionist school teacher, her penmanship was incredible (to this day, my printed signature is inspired by the late Alma Schwartz).
I realize now probably more than I did then how important it is to respect and care for the elderly. I appreciated the payment for doing the work, but I think she cherished the time to visit with someone who took an interest in what she had to share – and I guess I did too. The saddest part of all those summers, is one day we didn’t do the mowing anymore. I don’t remember why exactly, whether another young neighbor had assumed the duties as we grew older, but the year Grandma Schwartz passed away I felt incredibly sad that I hadn’t visited her for so many years. It’s funny how something like mowing the lawn can teach you so much.