I remember the lawns surrounding the houses where we lived when I was a child. The grass was sparse and interspersed with dandelions and assorted other non-grass things that, at least, were green for most of the summer. My dad mowed with a push mower with a whirling cylinder of curved blades that he kept razor sharp. As far as I could tell, everybody mowed their own lawns, even Dr. Stone who lived at the end of our block, and Henry Reem, who had the biggest insurance agency in town and could afford to take his family to mountain dude ranches and seaside resorts every year. They were right out there sweating and grunting just like the guy who clerked at the hardware store and the cashier at the Jack Sprat Grocery Store.
Right after WWII, when we had moved to an acreage at the edge of town, the lawn was so badly overgrown that my dad and my uncle spent most of one weekend cutting the grass with scythes before Dad could begin to attack it with his razor-sharp mower. After the first summer or two, Dad came home with a power mower that employed a smelly, noisy gasoline engine. Mother made us girls stay in the house whenever he mowed the lawn, to keep us safe from flying stones and sticks and the unspeakable chance that we might get a foot cut off in the powerful, whirling blades. That mower had a number of complicated gears and levers that controlled, not only the mowing blades, but the powerful wheels that drove the thing across the lawn with Dad grappling with it all the way to keep it going at the speed and direction he required.
When I was in junior high school, a newer, much more manageable power mower took its place and, as my older sister already had an after-school job, I was instructed on the use of this much safer machine. That supposed privilege continued right on through my high school days and included the mowing of not only our large lawn, but the miniature golf course we had built on one corner of the property, as well.
During my college years, summers were spent at home, mostly helping with the garden, canning, and housework, cashiering at the golf course– and mowing, of course.
When I got married, I assumed that my husband would take on the traditional job as the man of the house and tend to those dangerous and heavy outdoor tasks as my dad once had done for my mother. The first house we lived in was located on Dill Street in Iowa City, situated at the edge of a timbered area near the river. There were about 17 blades of anemic grass surviving in the shady lawn and my new husband valiantly attacked them with an old rotary push mower he found in the basement.
Two years later, after we moved to a larger house with a large lot in the northeast part of town, we encountered a lawn that was lush and thick as a fur coat, and it was decided that hiring one or two of the neighborhood teenagers to mow the lawn was the most practical solution. This could be accomplished for about five dollars and a bottle of root beer served on the back steps.
Then one day, apparently overcome by a wave of macho self-image, my husband came home with a shiny, new power mower and declared that he was going to take care of that chore himself. He was rewarded with a cold beer served while he lolled in his new Father’s Day hammock in the back yard. After a few weeks, once the novelty had worn off for my hero, I was instructed on how to start the small engine and found myself doing the majority of the mowing for 12 years until we moved to the country.
By then, we had teenage boys of our own, and as most parents know, they love machines and long to operate anything that drinks gasoline, makes an infernal noise, and is relatively dangerous to operate. Now, when you suddenly own 160 acres rather than one large corner lot, it’s difficult to decide just where your lawn ends and Mother Nature holds sway, but a riding lawn-mower and three adolescent boys managed to control most of the non-agricultural greenery. They baptized the mower in the creek and dipped its wheels into the pond on more than one occasion, but by time the novelty had worn off for them, the riding mower had been replaced by a small diesel tractor. Most fortunately for me, it was too much bother for them to adjust and re-adjust the seat so that their 5’2” mom could reach the pedals and other controls, so I haven’t had to mow one blade of grass since then. Hooray for long grass and short legs.