It seems as if I have spent a good part of my life cutting grass.
The implements of my trade have traced the arc of technology across the decades, though my progression of machinery was always behind the curve.
The first was a hand push-reel mower whose power was solely provided by me, a skinny 9- or 10-year-old whose summer thoughts were more directed to sitting in the shade of the twin chinaberry trees at the front of our home, listening to Dizzy Dean's colorful calling of St. Louis Cardinals baseball, and perhaps sipping a cool lemonade, than to shearing the clover that covered the top of the little hill on which the house sat.
Devices such as the one I employed had already been around for the better part of a century, and the design was little improved over the period.
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The simple reel was efficient, requiring only my own vigor to produce results. With the energy of one boy's back-and- forth motion, driving from the shoulder, and pushing the sharp reel ever forward, one was able to produce a shorn lawn in the course of a hot summer Saturday morning.
With any luck, I was able to catch a breeze blowing across my shady front porch, overlooking fences and pasture that sloped down to Highway 1 and its busy transit of cars heading south to Shreveport or north to Texarkana.
I remember regarding the lawn assignment as work, but by no means onerous. It was, after all, something that a man, like my dad, did, and the fact that I could do it, too, gave me a feeling of proud exhaustion and sweaty accomplishment.
Before long, I graduated to an electric mower which, when you think on it, was a somewhat laughable step on man's journey through time and grass. The mower was underpowered, and the blade would constantly come to a stop in the clover, and the little motor would emit an electronic hum that spoke the voice of impotence.
I am sure it will be hard to picture the system one would create to work around the problems presented by a couple of hundred feet of electric cord, and the constant movement necessary to navigate a successful cutting. The perpetual motion of cord and mower required a special rhythm and constant attention to the location of the former in relation to the path of the latter.
You will quickly understand the occupational hazard attached to such work.
The first paid work I accomplished in life was cutting the grass for our neighbor, Bess Zagst. I have never had a better boss in the years since. She provided me with tea or lemonade, and kindly advice. A wonderful cook, with a splendid range of dishes, she knew that among all things sweet, her egg custard pies were my favorite.
Far into my adulthood she dispatched these treats and I was always reminded of my first venture into commerce, and the receipt of cash and custard for my labor.
In time, grass cutting did become an intrusion into busy days that try the souls of teenagers or young fathers, and later that of the children of the older father.
Through the years, the mowers became more powerful and their cut wider. Nonetheless, when you count up the hours and the weeks and the years, you realize that an amazing amount of time has been spent cutting grass.
Figuring two hours a week for 26 weeks a year, over 50 years I hit 2,600 hours. Expressed another way, that is the equivalent of 65 40-hour work weeks.
But Dad, as so often in my life, has given me a new perspective on grass cutting.
At 101, he no longer cuts the grass, though he did only a year ago, riding his old Craftsman riding mower over the same yard that I cut so many times in those wondrous, simple days of my youth.
The conversation had somehow turned to the yard, and army worms, and grass that needed mowing because rain and sun had conspired to make it grow high quickly.
Dad's eyes moistened with good memories spent in the honest labor that cutting a yard provides to a person of any age.
"I wish I could cut the grass," he said, with such earnest desire and conviction that I knew he was talking about a good deal more.
I knew that he was saying that the day will arrive for all of us who live long enough that something as mundane as cutting a yard may come to be one of the most desirable things for which we might wish. We often don't know to cherish such things until they are no longer available to us.
When the sun rose on Father's Day, I ate some shredded wheat with my father and finished off a second cup of coffee, and then fired up the Craftsman.
Although it was early, the yard felt like an oven, but every lap was like coming home to memories that you could only discover in the fulcrum of that experience.
We had planted every tree in the yard. The little longleaf pines that we had held, a dozen in one hand, are giant trees now. The oaks shade half the yard.
I cut around the muscadine arbor from which thousands of gallons have been harvested, and on whose jellies I have long feasted.
Limbs on the big pear tree lay heavy with a crop that will need picking before long.
The figs are sparse, and only a few peaches show their faces on the trees that Dad has lovingly pruned and doctored over the years.
They haven't been tended this year, and their condition attests to the neglect.
Dusty thoughts of all those years rode with me, and the time passed too quickly. Still, I wish Dad could cut the yard once more. I don't believe I will ever mow again without a sense of gratefulness for the job, for the sweat, for the time alone, for the thinking that takes place there, and for the memories of all the years and all the cut grass that stand along the roadside of years on the journey to now.
Tiner is executive editor of the Sun Herald, The Bee's sister McClatchy newspaper in Biloxi, Miss.