When I want to feel 18 again, I mow the lawn.
I'm going to exaggerate here, but only a little. I love mowing. And I love mowing when it's hot and humid.
I grew up an Air Force kid, our family domiciled in Omaha, Nebraska from the start of my eighth grade year at Logan Fontenelle Junior High until I graduated from Bellevue West High School in 1986.
Though the Deep South (not sure why I feel the need to capitalize that, but I do) is best known for torrid summers, summers in eastern Nebraska are hot, sticky affairs as well.
Compared with my current home of 20-plus years in Chicago, just a few miles from a nearly constant cooling Lake Michigan, nearly all weather in Nebraska is about extremes -- hotter, more humid, colder, snowier, and a heck of a lot more tornados than Chicago.
It was those summers in high school, as the oldest of an Air Force colonel and a stay-at-home mom, I got the marquis chores, including mowing. I grumbled, but I kind of liked it, too.
There was something so physically satisfying about pushing sweat out of my eyes, under a wicked and unforgiving sun, and seeing the lines of newly tamed and shortened grass emerge. Even as I was dive-bombed by a million mosquitoes and biting flies.
Back then, you had to put a grasscatcher on the mower -- if mulching mowers were around, we didn't have one -- so every so often I'd have to stop, turn it off and go empty the then-heavy, fragrant grass, especially if it was wet and clumping, seeing my fingertips quickly become stained green.
My shoulders would ache, though not terribly, and sweat would trickle down the front of my bra and soak the back of my shirt.
In those days, I didn't feel pretty or thin -- though now I look back and know that I was just fine. As I mowed then, I'm sure I thought about school -- hard AP classes, trying to keep up my mostly all-As, boys that I desperately liked but felt unworthy of. I'd also think about how many calories I must be burning, so that I wouldn't get fat.
Being a slightly neurotic teen-age girl is so fun, isn't it?
And yet I remember joy on those hot days. The satisfaction of a hard job well done. Feeling physically strong. It took years for me to discover that again, when I started running in late 30s and worked my way into long trail races.
My husband and I bought our house 15 years ago next month. He grew up mainly in apartments and was eager to have his own yard and mower. I figured since I mowed as a kid, I'd be the mower in the family. Conflict!
Yes, we both love to mow, but I usually don't insist on it. I sneak it in once in a while, when he's run to the store or sleeping or on the rare occasion that he's out, like he is this weekend at the Pitchfork Music Festival.
After a trip to the pool, I got the kids settled with Netflix and a snack, and went to the garage.
I got the hand hedge clippers and the hand edger out -- I never, ever use a power edger. Doing it by hand just feels like honest work.
Sweat poured in my eyes as usual,. I pulled up my shirt many times to wipe my drenched, hot face, not caring who might get a glimpse of my torso, which has housed three babies.
I edged carefully, my Air Force colonel's daughter self pleased with the neat lines that formed and tidily separated the lawn and the sidewalk.
I hand-clipped the areas where the mower won't reach (my husband usually skips that part and it drives me a little bananas).
And then I mowed, first moving the mower on the outside edges to form a frame for the lawn, then methodically mowing diagonally because it just looks awesome.
The sweat soaked my shirt and tricked down my bra, the sun bright and warm against my neck. I felt young again. Being 17 or 18 wasn't easy, but there were young moments of happiness, of feeling like aha, I have this.
I felt that again as I saw the manicured lines made by the mower, and stood and looked at the lawn when I was done.
I was happy.
|I hand-trimmed overgrown grass around this ugly sewer thing we try to hide with flowers.|
|Neat and tidy edging. Love our backyard -- a nice little sanctuary in the city.|
|If you look hard, you might be able to see the diagonal mowing lines.|