A Time Machine That Also Cuts Grass

Before I knew it, I was a grown-up with a lawn of my own. My husband mowed it once a week with his consumer-magazine-researched power mower. It was a sporty-looking thing, red and gray, reeking of gasoline and ear-blastingly loud. But efficient, of course. Very.

One day, in a yuppyish gardening catalog, I happened upon a person-powered push mower. My ears seemed to hum with the long-ago, gentle whirring of Dad's ancient push mower. In a flash I was a drowsy young girl, stretching and blinking awake to the sweet, green-scented promise of summer mornings. For a moment, I believed that if I were to press my face to the window screen, as I did on those Saturday mornings, I would see Dad following Rickety Green up and down the backyard as he shaved the grass in methodical, overlapping stripes.

It was irresistible, that memory, and soon a sleek reincarnation of Rickety Green squatted in our garage. Each Saturday when my husband headed out to mow, I'd say hopefully, "Are you going to use the new mower?" And every Saturday he'd say, "I'm in a hurry today. Maybe next week."

It rained one weekend and the lawn couldn't be cut, and the next week we were out of town. One weekday morning, very early, I went out to look at the ankle-tickling tangle. "Hmm," I said. And then a magnetic force yanked me toward the garage and the gleaming push mower.

It was a fight to the finish: teeth-gritted determination versus macramaed knots of vegetation. But in the end, I triumphed. I celebrated with a hot bath. That evening, as my husband admired my handiwork, I closed my fingers over my sore palms and said, "Maybe I'll try it again next week."

The next time, mowing was easier. I noticed things: new buds on the day lilies, the liquid warble of grosbeaks in the firs, a tree frog blinking at me from our cotoneaster. An orange-and-black butterfly drifted by. Wisps of cloud floated overhead. The scent of green enveloped me. Shoving the mower, I had an unaccustomed and joyful sensation of my own physical power.

I was hooked.

"You don't need to mow twice a week," my husband told me after I'd settled into a routine.

"Oh yes," I said, discovering the truth as I spoke it. "Yes, I do need to."

I got together with my sister, who lives too far away (I only hope she says the same about me). We were catching up, talking about what we'd been doing for fun.

"I mow the lawn." I felt foolish saying it.

My sister's eyebrows disappeared into her hairline. She blinked her hazel eyes at me and opened and closed her mouth a couple of times.

"Uh," I said. "With a push mower like Dad had once - remember?"

She nodded violently and in a kind of dazzled wonder I heard her say, "I do, too! With a push mower!" And then she told me a story:

It seems a co-worker of her husband came into work one morning laughing and shaking his head. He said to Mike, "Come take a little ride. I'm gonna show you something you won't believe!"

To my brother-in-law's amazement, he was driven straight to his own neighborhood and then slowly past his own yard, where my sister was shaving their acre of lawn in careful whirring strips.

"Can you beat that!?" the coworker said. "I mean, did you ever? I didn't even know they still made those things.... Who on earth do you think she is? And does she have a clue that this is the 20th century?"

And my sister's husband said, "Uh, well. Actually...."

IN the midst of our laughter, I almost asked her if mowing had become for her, as it was for me, some kind of meditation. If, while she watches the grass change from shag to velvet, she also watches memories and daydreams play in the theater of her mind. If ideas and plans and possibilities swirl by her, some worth catching. If she finds herself, as she shoves the mower up and down, pushing backward and forward into her own yesterdays and tomorrows.

I almost asked her, but I didn't. Because somehow, in that unspoken way of sisters, I didn't need to.

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