My grandfather's woodworking shop was a museum of aged tools. Their work-glazed handles hung neatly from nails on the wall or lay one beside the other in homemade wooden boxes. They were more than instruments of his trade. They were his pride.
As a young boy, I watched him work in the shop. He built cabinets, doors, shelves, whatever was needed to improve someone's home. And when he was finished, he cleaned up and returned each tool to its place.
In a corner of the shop was an ancient push mower. Every Saturday he would take it out and silently mow the parts of the yard that had not been taken over by my grandmother's vegetable garden. I would walk with him, watching the blades spin and the grass clippings fly in every direction.
A little over a year ago, I moved to a different town. In the final days before moving, we held the requisite garage sale to lighten our load, selling furniture, clothing, the barbecue, and a well-used power mower.
We moved into our new home. Since it was late summer and the grass was growing quickly, the mower was one of the first things that needed to be replaced.
I walked around the new house. It sits on a hill that is just steep enough to enjoy a street-level front door and a sunlit basement in the rear. The previous owners had built three nice-looking terraces on each side. As I looked at them, however, I saw a problem. At each terrace, I would have to shut off the mower, carry it up the steps, restart it, mow the narrow strips of grass, and repeat the process for each terrace on either side of the house.
THEN I remembered a newspaper article on push-reel lawn mowers. They are making a comeback, partly for nostalgia and partly for ecology. I recalled following my grandfather around the yard and realized that a push mower was the answer. Sometimes a step backward is a step forward.
I went to the local hardware store and looked at the power mowers. They had several models, but they also had three models of push mowers. I pushed one up and down the aisle a few times, then checked the price - about half that of the power mowers.
It took only one mowing to convince me I had done the right thing. When I moved, the blades turned. When I stopped, they stopped. No pulling on a cord, no blaring two-stroke combustion engine noise, no blue cloud of hazy smoke, no forearm-rattling vibration, no announcement to the neighborhood that I was mowing today. And no need to fill up (or even keep) the red gas cans in the garage.
I walked quietly behind the whirling blades. It was calm, peaceful, more of an outdoor activity than a chore. I enjoyed mowing the lawn and I finished much more quickly than if I had stopped and started a power mower.
Back in the garage, I twisted a rubber-coated hook into a stud in the wall. With one hand, I lifted the push mower onto the hook, tucking it neatly out of the way. Its shiny chrome handles looked so new, so untouched. I glanced across the garage and saw my tools hanging on nails above the workbench I had built a few days before. It was a meager collection compared with my grandfather's.
On the other hand, I don't make my living with those tools the way he did. Mine are for odd projects and home maintenance. They, like the push mower, look different from my grandfather's. Their plastic and metal handles will never take on the golden tone of wood-handled tools that have spent hours in a craftsman's hands.
My workshop will never have the complexity or character that his did. But when I mow the lawn, I'll take the push-reel mower down. I'll walk quietly behind it, leaning slightly forward the way my grandfather did, and watch the blades whirl and clippings fly. The push mower solved my problem, but it also gives me a connection to the past, to my youth, and to my grandfather.