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Published July 12, 2009, 12:00 AM

Swift: Outdoor chores include many tales of mow

When he checked out our first home, husband Irwin took it all in and thought: “Trees! Endless lawn! Gardening!”

By: Tammy Swift, INFORUM

When he checked out our first home, husband Irwin took it all in and thought: “Trees! Endless lawn! Gardening!”

When I checked out our first home, I took it all in and thought: “Leaves to rake! Lawn mowing! Ugh … canning!”

Maybe I’m just a glass-is-half-empty type of gal. Or maybe it’s simply because I have no love for outdoor chores.

Especially when it comes to mowing. Even with a riding lawn mower, our yard takes anywhere from four hours – if you rush and leave “bladehawks” all over the yard – to six hours, if you do a decent job. And lately, we’ve needed to mow it twice a week.

That’s eight to 12 hours a week, people. An entire workday sitting atop a noisy, jostling, exhaust-spewing machine while daydreaming about a gardening robot. And if we wait too long between mowings, the backyard starts to look like the New Zealand bush.

The real problem may be that I overdosed on outdoor chores while growing up. After spending my formative years on a farm with miles of lawn and an airport-runway-sized garden to tend, I harbor few romantic illusions about the country life.

In fact, from age 12 to age 17, one of my main outdoor duties was to mow the lawn. And we didn’t just have “a” lawn. We had what we called “the baseball-field lawn,” “the lawn by the sledding hill,” “the center lawn with trees,” “the house lawn” and “the lawn by Dad’s shop.”

All this time aboard a riding mower gave me a fabulous tan – as did a generous coating ofsuntan “lotion” made from baby oil and iodine. (In the early ’80s, we thought SPF meant “Suntan Produced Fastest.”) I also was paid for my labor, at the then-princely wage of $1 an hour.

But I hated the job. And, quite frankly, I was terrible at it. I kept thinking that if I botched it up bad enough, I would be “fired” and transferred to a more pleasant job indoors. But my parents didn’t have much choice. They had a limited, unskilled, poorly motivated work force of pouty teenagers. And so I continued to mow. Ineptly.

Among my highlights:

  • I accidentally ramped the John Deere off a culvert, destroying the mower blade in the process.
  • Once, in an effort to get the mowing done “really fast” so I could attend a party in town, I mowed the entire lawn at speeds that surely exceeded 35 miles per hour.
  • I drove over a variety of things, including young trees, tin cans, shoes and at least one carcass of a former squirrel.

Even my maiden voyage as the family lawn-maintenance engineer did not bode well.

I was in sixth grade and received a five-minute lesson on how to drive the mower. I learned how to start the tractor and how to lower the mowing apparatus.

My sister only left out one detail: how to stop the machine.

I thought of simply turning off the key, but was so young and inexperienced that I feared this would ruin the machine.

And so, for the next three hours, I circled the “lawn by the sledding hill” again and again and again.

Every once in awhile, one of my sisters would look out of the living room picture window at me.

I would stand up and wave frantically, yelling, “Show me how to stop this thing!”

My sisters, who thought I was just being unusually friendly, would wave back. And then they’d go back to folding socks while watching “Another World.”

And so it went, until the lawn was nothing but dirt, and the mower ran out of gas.


Talk about a tough row to mow.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525