A fellow told me I could cut my whole yard in fifteen minutes if I’d get one of those zero turn lawnmowers. “It takes all the work out of it. You’ll love it.” And this guy was not a Troy-Bilt salesman. “You’ll be over knocking on your neighbors’ door, asking if you can cut their grass!”
I thought immediately of Leon. About the best whipping I ever saw centered on his abiding distaste for anything resembling yard work. He was the older brother. And by every law of nature, order and natural selection it fell his lot to mow our small yard.
He didn’t see it exactly that way. “Being in charge of ‘grass cutting’ and actually ‘cutting grass’ are two different things entirely” was the way he put it. Leon, when it came to work, didn’t think like most people. “Daddy’s exact words were, ‘Get this yard mowed.’ He was referring to all of us.”
Leon was already a teenager in this fateful summer of long ago. David and I were mere lads. And gas operated zero turn lawnmowers would have been like something out of a Buck Rogers movie. Listen, a normal motor driven rotating blade mower would have been manna from heaven for the Colbert boys!
Our ancient “push” mower had no motor. It did come with a wooden shaft and handle that weighed a ton, heavy steel reels that defied inertia and teeny-tiny wheels that locked up more than they rolled forward. This “machine” cut a whopping sixteen inch swath through the grass. And like any old reel mower, the blades would “hang up” and quit turning anytime a piece of tough grass got stuck in the blades. Our yard back then consisted mostly of sturdy Johnson grass and high weeds.
Leon devised a plan that would be the envy of any older brother. He made a “harness” out of an old piece of rope. He tied one end to the front bar on that old mower and looped the other end around me and Dave’s respective necks! He took hold of the handle and told us to lean forward and pull the mower through the grass.
We near ’bout had to run just to get the blades turning!
Leon allowed he couldn’t push and guide at the same time. It was our job to supply the power. I’ve got rope burns on my neck to this day. And no matter how much we leaned forward, no matter how fast we shuffled our feet…..we couldn’t keep the mower moving.
Leon oiled the wheels. Attempted to sharpen the blades. Yelled at David and me for not trying harder. And looked the yard over circumspectly and declared we needed to mow “downhill.”
If he had expended half as much energy just mowing the yard as he did trying to figure out how to get the grass cut without actually participating in the work himself our whole family would have been better off. Then, of course, he wouldn’t have been Leon.
Daddy worked hard all day. He came home and the yard wasn’t cut. He got on Leon pretty good and demanded he “cut that grass tomorrow.” That scene repeated itself the next day. Leon blamed the delay on the mower, the weather, unforeseen circumstances, the sun got in his eyes, the poor starving children in India and me and David Mark.
Dad didn’t chew his cabbage twice. He came home to a yard full of grass the next night and he whipped Leon “for a while”. I’m telling you, he shelled down the corn….. And it might have been justified. The grass WAS a little high; more than we could do anything with. When Daddy finally mowed it the next Saturday, we found two basketballs and a bicycle that had been lost out there since April!
There were consequences and lasting effects to this episode. I don’t remember Daddy ever whipping another one of us. He didn’t have to! He did however purchase an old gas mower not long afterwards. Dave and I tended to that yard meticulously when it came our turn. And Leon, who mostly didn’t mind any other kind of work, hired someone to cut his grass just as soon as he got out on his own.
Twelve years after this incident, I graduated from college. I was twenty-two years old and feeling pretty good about myself. I drove up in the driveway with my diploma in hand and noticed the grass was about two inches high. I hugged Mom and headed for the lawnmower—an almost new gas operated Murray.
It wouldn’t crank! Oh, no!
When Daddy turned into the driveway that evening I was on my knees in the backyard, pulling grass up with my hands like a house afire.
I’d witnessed the big whipping…….and I wasn’t taking any chances!