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Friday, 1 July 2011

Making the Cut

 In 1974 Richard Nixon was having a bad time while Hank Aaron was having a good one. In 74, Ali hit George and George hit the floor. People magazine had its first edition while Kate Moss and Leonardo DiCaprio were being newly minted themselves. More importantly a model 5269c, 19 Inch Cut with Grass Catcher, Lawn -Boy by the Outboard Marine Corporation of Canada Ltd. rolled off of the assembly line and was purchased August 10 by my dad at the local Simpson's store. Thirty-seven  years later I'm still pushing it.
  The new machine, bright green and sporting a stylish plastic engine cover was a none too hasty replacement for the one that had reigned during the entire lawn mower chore days of my childhood. Ever since I had been old enough to push and was reliably able to swear that I wouldn't run over my own foot, I had toiled with a beast sold as the Iron Horse by Lawn Boy. I suppose that calling something a horse was designed to get you thinking about Northern Dancer type thoroughbreds slicing their way easily and nobly through verdant fields. The reality was more like a  heavy Clydesdale named Pizza Face. Not much in the looks department but it was a force.  The front end sported some sort of metal comb/rake/non moving saw blade, the purpose of which may have been to lacerate anything that was about to be cut up and thrown out or to just give it more testosterone macho guy appeal.  Directly behind that, the spark plug stuck out like a nose so that even the most mechanically incompetent could find it. Then came the heavy duty engine (which if you check YouTube you can still hear run), started by winding a separate cord around it in a manner that when you pulled, hopefully both started the engine and gave you your cord back.
  At some point fairly early on in its service, it hit something hard enough to split the metal deck so that it became a 1/3, 2/3 two piece puzzle. My father solved this problem with a couple of steel bars and some heavy nuts and bolts. It was sort of a metal bandage that kept it together most of the time but wasn't anything that would ever be confused with cosmetic surgery.
  Although there was never an actual dollar value placed on the weekly cutting, there was an expectation that it got done before the allowance was handed over. Cutting for the grandparents however was a different deal. Although never asked for, you knew it was as good as cash in hand once you asked if you could do the job. Grandma Pirie's mower must have been the pride of the Industrial Revolution in some bygone era. It combined the best of farm machinery weight and effectiveness as well as near indestructible iron and steel components ,complimented by the sturdiest of hardwoods. It was also so heavy that you rolled your lawn as well as you cut it. It had been painted bright yellow as were all my grandfather's hand tools. The logic here was that when neighbours borrowed your stuff then held onto it long enough that they thought that you wanted to borrow it when you asked for it back - well then that bright yellow came in handy now didn't it.
  I don't remember them having any other lawnmower and when she left her house at 90 it was still there in the garage.
  I pushed our Iron Horse right through grade school when twenty five cents was a decent weekly stipend then right through high school (the extended grade 14 version) when for a while before I discovered girls, the sum of $2.50 per week seemed quite fine.  After all McDonald's could still give you a meal and change for a dollar. By grade 11 though, my needs had changed so I started working on the weekends and summers loading box cars for the railroad. My regime of lawn cutting became quite irregular.
   By the time that my dad had succumbed to the siren song of the tarty new 74, I had long moved out and the job had been returned to him on a full time basis. In the years between my moving out and me finally inheriting the mower, I had managed to go through more than a few machines of my own. You see, where dad had come from a culture of buy the best that you can afford once and look after it, I was one of the hoola hoop generation whose working motto was buy the newest, abuse it, break it, buy the newest because it will be better anyways. I broke my own  Lawn Boys and whatever brand that was on sale, and I even managed to break some fancy German made push mower.
  At this point Dad's 74 is in less than pristine condition. On my workbench is a small collection of parts that came from it and are probably never going back on, like half of a starter cord handle, and primer button and its spring. The fuel shut off valve doesn't work nor does the float valve so that whatever you put in the gas tank either gets used very quickly or just leaks all over the garage floor until it is gone. On the first day of grass cutting season this year it started on the first pull and performed wonderfully. From then on getting it to work has involved serious amounts of cursing and cord pulling to the point that after last week's session I could not raise my arm up to shoulder level for a full two days.
   In the 1951 version of  "A Christmas Carol", the housekeeper's line sums up the current running condition of the 74- "'E's breathing very queerly when 'e  does breathe at all."  The blade goes around just fast enough to cut a blade of grass providing it isn't very long otherwise it just pushes it over or it stops the blade and the engine shuts off. A by product of its current condition is a profusion of oil smoke. If you were to watch our house from the sidewalk you would find that in ten minutes I can recreate the moody mist of an Appalachian morning but in twenty minutes I can make you think that you have stumbled upon a mist enshrouded Brigadoon.
  Oh well, I have a few more days until I have to battle with the 74 again and in the meantime I plan to spend some time watching the grass grow, smelling its fragrance, appreciating its lushness, and walking through it barefoot. After all, isn't there supposed to be splendor in the grass?