Ode de L'Herbe

LAWN. Summer-sunny lawn with long grass blades leaning in the breeze like brushed green velvet pile. Lawn to roll around in, itchy and bare backed, lawn for the itchy dog to roll around in, lawn for the dignified cat to roll around in on the sly. Lawn to leap and hop in, barefoot, the blades tickling the arches of your feet, a patch of lawn just right for the blanket you throw down, along with a thick novel and a pillow, the whole afternoon taking place right here in this green desert. Is there anything better in the world than a summer lawn? No, as green as the grass is long, nothing is better. Yet for those of us who grew up with lawns but now live where the only greenery is in the city park, there is something, not better, exactly, but a cut above the summer lawn. It comes with two rubber wheels, five or six horizontalblades, a handle, and no place to put gasoline.

Even from my distant vantage point I see your looks of horror. ``What can he mean?'' you ask yourselves. ``The man is mad. Who in his right mind would choose to mow a lawn with a hand mower when he could lie on a blanket reading a thick novel?''

But hear me out. I am far from unreasonable. In fact, for many years I believed as you did. As a child, I lived in a household whose lawns were almost as well loved as the family dog, though not as cuddly. Consequently I loathed lawns. Lawns meant work. In my family lawns became a kind of logical proposition, as in ``if lawns, then lawn mower, and child to operate mower.'' I was the child. On weekends, when my efforts to hide in the basement or do extra homework had come to naught, I would be sent to the front lawn to face my nemesis: an old Craftsman hand mower whose handles were almost as tall as I was. I would have to push this monstrosity through a lawn that had grown tall and thick - taller and thicker than usual, in fact, because of my feigned illness the week before, which had absolved me from lawn mowing. Now I faced the consequences of my own evasions.

For what seemed like hours I would force the old Craftsman through the tall grass, bemoaning my fate, stalling out in a particularly sticky patch, throwing my small chest against the handles with grim self-pity. After each row I stopped to see if the pitcher of lemonade had miraculously appeared on the window ledge - my mother's sign for my break. Usually, of course, it was not there. As I heaved and mowed, I promised myself that I when I grew up I would never ever have a lawn, and would moreover live so far up in a skyscraper that lawns would simply cease to affect me. I would be free of lawns forever.

Now, grown up, with an apartment and an unsurprising lack of lawn, I spend a fair bit of time at my father-in-law's house. It is true that his house has two refrigerators, and if I were the stereotypical son-in-law I would make my living raiding one of them. But no. I do not go to his house because of his food; I go because of his lawn. I go because, sometime back, his lawn needed mowing and he had helped me adjust the brakes on my Subaru, and what could I say? I searched the garage for the lawn mower, which turned out to be virtually the same Craftsman hand mower I hd wrestled with as a child. This time, however, the tables were turned. We sat for a minute, considering each other. I was bigger than it was. Despite the flood of memories it triggered, I was now destined to be its master. With a small bow to its somewhat irritating history, I grabbd it and carried it out to the lawn. There was no question who was boss. Setting the mower down in the grass, I began to push.

It was surprisingly easy. Not only that, it was fast. The mower chewed through the long grass with its pleasant, quick ``chuff-chuff-chuff.'' All of a sudden all the memories were better: the sound, the blur of the blades, the smell of cut grass, the flying grass. My old ordeal seemd a little comical: I found myself in sympathy with the erratic seriousness of a child's life, and yet laughing - laughing at the pleasure of having grown, and at the absurd tasks we set for children in the name of growing up. Why make a boy mow the lawn? Why weary him, frustrate him, tease him with adulthood? The old, mild cruelty subsided as a fine wake of grass showered me like an apology.

In the oddest places one begins to like the idea of being an adult, and this was my place. In the middle of my wife's father's lawn I pushed a hand mower, keeping the rows straight, admiring the difference between the mown and the unmown, and choosing among my memories, choosing the best ones - the long days of childhood, between weekends, when the great green desert was the only place to be.

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