Every year around this time, my thoughts wander back to the best job I ever had: working as a lawn boy on Cape Cod, Mass.
Now, "lawn boy" isn't a job description you're likely to find in the help-wanted ads of your local paper. On my résumé I'd be inclined to use a more glamorous phrase, such as landscaper or "ornamental gardener." But when push came to shove - in grass-mowing terms, that is - I was a lawn boy, keeping other people's often-empty holiday properties neat and tidy in the spring and summer, and then in the autumn, clearing away any leafy debris before a carpet of winter white was rolled out.
My friend and then boss, Frank Murphy, used to run a part-time landscaping business, partly to relieve the stress of his full-time occupation as a schoolteacher, and I joined the venture soon after I moved to the Cape. I was fully employed elsewhere as well, looking after a busy bookstore, so when we hooked up to patrol the dozen or so lawns under Frank's care, it was almost as if we were off on our holidays.
This was evident in the way we organized our days. The night before, we would set a very flexible meeting time, after first conducting a rudimentary inquiry into the next day's weather.
The following morning, I would show up at Frank's house as arranged, on the nearest half-hour, give or take a handful of minutes here and there. Before we touched a single piece of equipment, tea was poured and doughnuts and muffins were offered. As we settled in over our cups for an amiable chat, the morning stretched imperceptibly closer to noon.
There was work to be done, though, and we hauled ourselves out of the kitchen and into the open air. We loaded Frank's truck with rakes and shovels, lawn mowers and gas containers, hedge clippers and shears.
Given the pinched geography of the mid-Cape and our insider's knowledge of shortcuts, we were never more than 15 minutes away from our first job of the day. On the way, we might see vacationing families parading down a sandy side road to the beach. More often, as we cut across busy main roads, we'd see long lines of traffic creeping toward a beach or shopping mall.
We might have been on our way to work, but never did I wish to swap places with any of those tourists. For me, cutting grass was like a combined visit to the chapel and the gym. Despite the roar of my machine, I was able to lose myself in thought and reflection. Yet, with the sun warming my arms and legs as I maneuvered 20 pounds of gasoline- propelled metal across one lawn and then another, I was receiving the kind of workout no gym could hope to provide.
Nowadays, my life as a lawn boy is behind me. When I trim our tiny patch of suburban Irish greenery, it's a domestic chore - one of many to be accomplished on a busy Saturday. The sun still occasionally warms my straining limbs - this is Ireland, after all - but I'm eager to see that last row of grass surrender so that I can move on to painting the shed.
The next time you're visiting Cape Cod and you see someone pushing a mower across an unruly expanse of scrub grass, feel free to ask for a turn. Of course, you may find that we lawn boys (and girls) can be less than obliging when it comes to protecting our turf. We know a good thing when we find it. Especially when it's right under our feet.