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Grass — and mower — grows patience

Saturday, May 12, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:34 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

“Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience, knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.” — Hal Borland

I was scanning quotes on Bartleby.com on mowing grass, and this popped up.

Perfect. Because if one thing is going to test your persistence week after week after week after week, it is the persistence of grass to keep growing and growing and growing and growing.

I find that really annoying.

OK, it’s a good thing that the green bits on the Earth grow back. Otherwise, the planet would have been cue-ball naked a long time ago and we would have starved.

It’s just that one of my inner children, “The Brat” — who hates doing most chores — is so proud, so pleased and so relieved when she finishes mowing the lawn that she cannot believe that it’s time to mow it again just a few days later.

But being an inner child, she remembers back to the ’60s and the Tressie dolls with the adjustable lengths of hair. Turn the key and the hair could be extended long or short and stay that way forever. The Inner Brat wonders why we haven’t come up with the Adjustable Lawn. Turn the key and adjust the length for the summer.

Ah, but then we wouldn’t need lawn mowers. Lawn mowers are a big business. Lawn mowers were invented to ensure that guys would have continued employment — in case the romance and reproduction gigs ever fell through. This is why there were the old push mowers with revolving blades. They used no gasoline; just brute force to roll those things up and down the yard.

Then guys added a motor. But they made sure they added the pull start.

A woman would have used a key.

And then they developed the lawn tractors. They have key starts — thank heavens — but also throttles, pulleys and levers to keep the boys entertained and enough bits and pieces to fall off, snap or go dull to keep them employed.

My first mower was a pull start, but I soon wearied of the wrestling match to get the engine running. When I moved to Columbia, I turned to a little key-start mulching mower. It worked fine while I lived in town. But when I moved to the country, where the yard was bigger and the grass seemed to be faster-growing and feistier, the little mower was soon overwhelmed. Last year I took my tax refund check and bought a used lawn tractor. It worked fine.

But this spring, the tractor wouldn’t start. I wrestled the car-size battery in to the mower show to be checked. Dead. I bought a new battery. I installed it with only a little arcing while I tightened the terminals.

I turned the key. The mower coughed, choked and came to life. I drove once, twice around the yard, and then the tractor lurched to a stop. It would not go forward. It would not go backward.

I summoned the mower ambulance. Two days later they picked it up and looked it over. A chain had snapped that made the mower go forward. But there’s more. A gasket was missing and the oil was draining out of the engine. The right front tire was flat. The right rear tire was going flat. The blades needed sharpening. The mower deck would not go up and down. Ball bearings were missing. The mower’s and mine.

Basically, the seat was good. And there was that new battery.

Days passed while the mower underwent surgery, and the grass continued to grow. I measured the progress on the side of my black German shepherd. When the mower broke, the grass was up to her belly. When it returned, the grass was near the top of the dog’s back.

So when the mower returned, I turned the key, played with the throttle and got that baby roaring once more. I took it slowly through the tall stems of grass, and, by golly, they were shorter than they had been before. A miracle.

I spent the next morning cutting the front and a side lawn. The morning after that I finished the back. Dang, if it didn’t look good – for the moment anyway.

I found one more quote. This one’s from Isaiah. “All flesh is grass.”

I didn’t need to hear that.

Mary Lawrence makes her debut today as a columnist for the Missourian. In addition to grass clippings, she has cuttings from her work at The Indianapolis News, The Wall Street Journal Europe, The Stars and Stripes and The Marion (Ohio) Star. Today, she teaches editing at the Missouri School of Journalism.


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