A LAWNMOWER STORY

I actually wrote this over 4 years ago. Honestly I don’t remember if I posted it anywhere but in honor of Father’s day… well here it is.

January 26, 2012

Sometime ago I was back on the street where I spent my high school years. When my mother died before I started 9th grade, I went to live with my father and stepmother. In the front of the house where we lived is a telephone pole where I used to play basketball on the backboard and rim mounted there. There is also a cable running at an angle from the pole to the ground to keep it stable. At the bottom of the cable from the ground up 3 or 4 feet is a steel shield/protector. You might wonder why it’s there. Well, I’m about to tell you… at least one use anyway.

When I was young, maybe 6 or 7 I desperately wanted to use the lawn mower. To a little boy it just looked like power and fun… noise and grass flying… my friends watching with envy as they also wanted to use their mowers. My father, however, wouldn’t permit me that chore until I was probably 10 or so. The mower we had was…well… how shall I say it… DANGEROUS! I don’t know what you know about lawnmowers, so let me fill you in. You might know that from the middle of the 19th century into the middle of the 20th century, push mowers without engines were used to cut grass. Do you know what I’m referring to? They were cylindrical with two wheels and a long handle that boys across the country cursed while they sweated to death on hot summer days shoving them across lawns all over the United States. Somewhere along the way someone figured out how to mount an engine on them and make them self propelled. Hard to believe there is no national holiday dedicated to that invention… but I digress. These were and are called “reel mowers.” Not “real,” but “reel.” The up side of these mowers (when engines were added) is the fact that boys and men didn’t have to develop hernias pushing them. The downside is they don’t cut grass or weeds that grow very high and they don’t always leave a nice smooth lawn behind. For those who are obsessive about their grass, they aren’t the best option. Frankly I don’t even know if they are made any longer.

In the late 1930s along came the development of the “deck” or “rotary” mower. These are the ones with which we’re most familiar today. The engine sits on a flat surface or “deck” and the blade rotates under the body spinning parallel to the ground while pulling the grass up, cutting it and throwing it out either into the lawn or into a grass catcher depending on one’s obsessions. How does the blade pull the grass up you might ask? Well there is a slight bend in the end of the blade that creates an air stream sucking the grass upward… not unlike the blades of a fan. Ingenious

Well, my dad built his own deck mower. I don’t know when he built it; sometime in the 1950’s I think, but I’m sure it was the talk of the neighborhood since everyone had people-propelled reel mowers at the time. So what was so DANGEROUS about it? I’m glad you asked. The “deck” was a piece of ¾ inch plywood on which was mounted 4 wheels, handles and an engine. There were no sides, know what I mean? On a commercial machine there are sides all around the deck going down close to the ground except for the opening where the grass is expelled. On the mower my dad built one could easily slip under the deck and have their foot or any other part of their anatomy shredded by the exposed blade. The mower threw grass (and anything else the blade might hit like stones, sticks, or bones from a roast given to the dog the night before) in a 360 degree circumference. You could hear over the roar of the engine a constant, “Ouch,” “dang,” “shoot,” and other four letter words when my father was walking behind it as the projectiles struck him in the ankles.

You know, the things in our lives that initially look fun can swiftly become the bane of our existence! When I was finally deemed old enough and responsible enough I got to yell, “Ouch,” “dang,” and “shoot” myself. I quickly learned to detest cutting the grass. I also learned by extension to despise the spring, the smell of spring, sunny days after rainy days… you get the idea, anything that caused the grass to grow faster, or that reminded me of the grass growing faster.

Now jump forward 6 or 7 years. I was now 16 or 17 and living with my father and stepmother, as mentioned previously. Of course, it was my job to cut the grass. We now had two mowers, both with sides I might add. One of the mowers had a wide deck and was able to cut more grass with one pass. Unfortunately there was a basic engineering flaw and the engine just wasn’t big enough to support the size of the blade and the subsequent cut, so it was powerless and frustrating to use. We also had a smaller mower. It was only about 20 inches wide and took FOREVER to cut the grass, “forever” being defined as 2-3 hours.

Whatever happened to the telephone pole cable story? I’m getting there! When I was recently visiting the aforementioned house I went and checked out the cable in the front yard. Sure enough there was a 40 year old gash on the steel protector. Now, back to my story…

One sunny afternoon I was cutting away with the small mower and was down near the cable. The small mower was built with a set of “teeth” on the front to allow the grass to slide under the mower without being pushed over. Well, do I need to tell you that the “teeth” were gone? Soooooo, there was no “side” on the front of the mower. As I pushed the mower up close to the angled cable and its steel shield/protector they went under the deck and hit the blade. Or the deck went over them and the blade hit… either way it made quite a sound along with leaving the gash previously mentioned and the mower began to shake like I did in the principal’s office in Jr. High. I quickly shut it down and instantly suspected that a serious rupture had occurred to the internal mechanism of the mower, i.e., it was broken. That wasn’t a big problem for me in terms of getting the rest of the grass cut other than the fact that I now had only one other option… Mr. Wide Deck/Gutless mower. The real problem was… you guessed it…! I had to go tell my dad I had slain the best mower we had. My father, like most dads, didn’t generally deal with this kind of news well. Yeah, that’s one way to put it… “didn’t deal well.” Another way of saying it is that I was fearful my father would be so mad he might have a stroke!

As it turned out, much to my surprise (and relief) he didn’t seem upset at all. We took the broken mower into the garage and removed the blade. He showed me that the blade on that particular mower was designed differently from other mowers. Rather than the blade being one thick piece of steel with sharpened ends this one was a hefty piece of steel with triangular shaped blades that were riveted onto each end. The impact from the steel protector covering the cable had knocked off one of the blades thus causing it to vibrate significantly because it was out of balance. I should have thought about this at the time but my father just happened to have a spare blade and rivets. You don’t suppose I was the first person to ever knock that blade off do you? Yeah, me neither! Since the rivets had to be inserted and then rounded off with a hammer, it took some time to get the mower ready for use. It started on the first pull. Amazingly, I did not bend the crankshaft!

I stood shoulder to shoulder with my dad that day at his hefty vice fixing that mower. He was not the kind of teacher that talked much or explained things. He just showed me what needed to be done and we did it. Mostly I was the “holder,” and the “tool getter.” But to be honest, recalling standing there with my dad fixing things brings back some of the best memories of my childhood. For years after he died I couldn’t look at his vice without tears welling up in my eyes or even look at the gash mark on a relatively meaningless piece of steel. Someday if I live long enough I will go there and discover that the pole and cable have been replaced. Maybe when they do someone will comment on the damaged steel shield and replace that as well. It won’t mean anything to anyone else. But it will be a day of great sadness for me.

It has been said that our perceptions of our heavenly Father are based on how we understand our earthly father. If our dad is or was kind, loving and open to us, we will tend to see God that way. If our dad is/was emotionally aloof, distant and tended to ignore us or even reject us, we might think of God as One who cares little for His creation and sits passively, powerlessly and watches. Or if our dad is/was angry, bitter, abusive and punitive, we might perceive God as One who simply waits in heaven for us to make a mistake so He can send lightning bolts our way. Regardless of how we might feel toward our earthly father, developing our thoughts of God based on our dad is at least naïve and for sure unfair; naïve as to who God is and unfair to imperfect human beings like our dads.

That being said, scripture is quite clear as to the nature of God. He is a God of love who cares deeply for His children. Of course we are all familiar with John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”

Do we remember that gave his one and only Son does not mean that he went on holiday to earth for 33 years? Do we recall that it means he humbled himself to become a servant and eventually “agreed” to suffer on a cross for us?

Maybe you are not as familiar with 1 John 4:7 “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God…”

I know that for many the thought of their dad produces sorrow and sometimes anger. That is more tragic than words can express. But know this. Regardless of what transpires here in this temporal world YOU ARE THE BELOVED OF GOD.

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One thought on “A LAWNMOWER STORY

  1. Thank you very much. I enjoyed your Lawn Mower story very much. I remember your dad a lot when you mention him, especially with you at his work bench with him. It reminds me when he volunteered to clime up our 90 foot mast to tighten down the screws keeping our big High Frequency Direction Finder from coming down while the USS Loy DE 160 was making rolls of 45 degrees. “Happy Fathers Day”

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