`TWAS the lovely summer when I would turn 11 in October that I inherited three lawns. This was some time before anybody thought of applying mechanical power to a lawn mower, so I also inherited three reel-type mowers that went with my three lawns, and they were all overly hefty for my slim, trim, and whimsical physique, which was boyishly skinny and thin.
Mr. Lester Blethen had retired, that's why. He had rounded out his days as a gardener, and took care of various rosebushes, phlox, and petunias about town in a circuit-riding manner.
Mr. Blethen also did three lawns for three well-heeled spinsters who did not have posy beds, so when Mr. Blethen retired somebody got his flower-bed work and I got those three lawns.
The Baker, Albright, and Cunliffe places were three big down-Maine sea-captain homes, all now owned by maiden daughters on spendthrift trusts.
The Albright lawn was the biggest and took me an hour and 15 minutes. That included trimming by the foundation and three apple trees with the hand clippers.
The Cunliffe lawn could be done in an hour, and I had to weed and water a china swan full of petunias on the front porch. Miss Albright and Miss Cunliffe paid me my 10 cents an hour and never haggled.
But the Baker job was priced by Miss Baker. Miss Letitia Ainsley Baker. She was the daughter of Capt. Solomon Islands Baker, who had been born into a wealthy seafaring family while the brig "Mary Susan" had been loading at Bougainville sometime since. He had left everything to his only daughter who, in spinsterhood, had astutely husbanded her assets and still had every nickel. She was said to be "snug," or "tighter'n the bark to a tree."
I could do her lawn in an hour, but she clocked me, and if I took less than an hour she would leave but nine cents, and sometimes only eight, in the saucer on the back step. On the other hand, if I took more than an hour she contended that I might have finished in 59 minutes and 60 seconds, and accordingly she would leave a dime in the saucer. There was one morning our church-league baseball team was about to play the Free Will Baptists for the title, and I came up with seven cents.
However, the Baker lawn was different, and memorable. Cap'n Baker, like so many blue-water men of his time, came home from sea to live in his native Maine town in retirement while still a young man.
He had many years to enjoy his wealth and was, as we say, "quite a rooster." He kept a trotting horse and sometimes drove him on the track himself, did a lot of hunting and fishing, held grand offices in the Masons and Odd Fellows, and was known to be a sharp enemy in the various gentlemen's card games in the barn attics about town.
He also had a liking for the ladies and, in general, lived pleasantly in sharp contrast to the way his modest and moderate daughter would follow.
One of the old mariner's likings was a rousing game of croquet. He would have folks come on summer afternoons, and beyond the screening hedge the thwack of the wooden balls indicated a game. The captain's croquet lawn was what Miss Baker had me mow. The stakes and wickets were kept in place, ready for a game that never began, and not too many townsfolk knew that the daughter thus kept alive a certain memory of her father inside the hedge fence.
So I would arrive to mow. I had to roll open the great stable door to get the mower (tack from horse days still hung on pegs), oil it, and trundle it against its strong will to the green. Now I carefully lifted the wickets and posts, the balls and mallets, and after I mowed I had to replace everything. The balls and mallets had a rack and a sailcloth covering.
Miss Baker had warned me the first time I mowed that I should be extremely careful about getting the wickets back to their right places. Then I would return the mower to the stable, giving it another squirt of oil and wiping the blades with an oily rag. The handle was brought up against the wall and secured with a loop of warp. That was a neat stable.
Then I got my coins from the saucer - to be laid away until I squandered them in college on culture.