By Kurt Muzikar
Dad’s New Lawn Mower, from the newly compiled book From Bozo to Bosons, Growin’ up Aspie, not yet published.
The Saturday morning grooming of our yard is the neighborhood entertainment. Each of us kids has a task. Dad barks out orders like a military commander. Five pairs of scissors he’s swiped from his work are passed out to his daughters. Their task is to cut individual blades of grass around the strategically placed sprinkler heads; twenty-four in the front and eighteen in the back. He then has them dig ravines around each sprinkler with a spade.
It’s not unusual for visitors who cross our lawn to stub their toes or worse yet trip and fall, especially when the sprinkler heads get stuck in an upright position.
Dad mapped the lay-out of the sprinkler system on quadrille paper using one of many compasses and protractors, also pilfered from work, so there’s a maximum five percent overlap per head, ensuring efficiency and minimal use of water.
He wears special goggles which make him look bug-eyed as he sets the blade of the edger for forty-five degrees which causes the gouged grass and dirt to fly back into his face. Unlike normal lawns, ours are edged at least three inches wide creating a moat-like effect.
“Trenching the lawn again?” a sarcastic neighbor dares to ask.
Dad’s zeal for the yard extends to the adjacent properties where he has one of us sweep and hose the neighboring sidewalks and gutters. This is before water rationing.
“I’ll give you a penny for each snail you cram down the sewer cap,” he offers.
I’m up for that. I pluck a snail off of mom’s rose bush and walk out to the street, bend over and press it into the hole of the sewer cap. The snail is bigger than the hole.
Its shell cracks as I attempt to cram it into the undersized aperture exposing the snail’s mucilaginous innards.
Yuck! this ain’t worth no penny.
I pause to reconsider. Ten of them will make a dime. If I get ten of them at one time, I’ll only have to wash my hands once.
I see a few more slithering across the dewy, morning lawn. I pick out nine more, cram them down the hole. I wipe the stick off my hands on my pant legs and claim my dime.
It’s easier to make a dime pulling ten dandelion roots from Mrs. Keebler’s yard.
Dad pulls the lawn mower out of the garage and I run behind him emptying the grass catcher on command.
Even so, Dad screaming my name, “KURRRT!” over the din of the lawnmower, when it’s obvious the grass catcher needs to be emptied, is demoralizing.
Karl, older than me and self-conscious, is especially mortified to be part of the Saturday spectacle. One morning he beats Dad to the garage and pulls out the lawn mower, before Dad awakens. Dad, hearing the engine, runs outside in his boxers and yells, “STOP, that’s my job!” That’s when I realize Dad’s fondness for the Saturday morning ritual.
At age eight, I have an epiphany, following Dad around the yard and doing a few chores around the house is a good deal for free room and board; I have it pretty good.
In 1965 the smooth velvet carpet of the golf course where Dad tees off inspires him to purchase a new lawn mower – a Briggs and Stratton, five-horse power, green beauty with a four-blade spindle wheel. It costs him a pretty penny: $140.00. Considering he gives Mom only $20.00 a week to feed a family of eleven, this is a significant investment.
“It’s just like the one they use at the golf course,” he tells Mom. Needless to say we’re the first in the neighborhood with such a fancy machine.
Dad’s New Lawn Mower is his pride and joy. He pampers it changing the oil, filter and plugs on a regular schedule at the lawn mower center on Magnolia Street.
On the first day he brings the mower home, he decides to take it for a spin. Our neighbors have let their lawn turn to weeds. Dad in his white tank top, cigarette dangling from his mouth, is thrilled to run over the dirt clods, grass and weeds leaving a dusty, coughing cloud in his wake.
Following close behind, cowering from the dirt clods and hurling pebbles, I watch in disbelief as he takes a sudden left.
Dad’s New Lawn Mower roars up the sidewalk to a neighbor’s meticulous manicured dichondra lawn. Through the front window I see the familiar face of Mr. Schwann. Jaw dropped, eyes wide, dumbfounded and helpless, he watches as dad scalps his lawn with the big green machine.
He too is afraid of Dad’s ire. Fortunately, the dichondra isn’t compliant. Dad makes only two passes before he retreats in defeat. Looking back over his shoulder as he thunders, bump-a-bumping along, seeing the hacked up lawn, he shakes his head.
“What kinda f..in’ lawn was that? ” he asks wiping the sweat from his brow with his ever-present dingy yellow handkerchief. He takes the Viceroy out of his mouth and crushes it with the toe of his shoe into the asphalt road. The acrid bite of nicotine mixed with dirt, grass, and sweat assaults my senses.
I bow my head in humiliation as I follow him back to our garage. I empty the basket filled with dirt clods and the heads of the dichondra into our trash can. I take the garden hose and let the cool water run over my head. I quench my thirst from the hose as I’ve seen the garbage collectors do on their weekly route.
It takes almost a year for our neighbor’s lawn to recover. I’m sure our family is the talk of the block for weeks if not months.
I realize now that I probably got my Aspie genes from my quirky dad. He had his own way of doing things, and when he got a fixin’ to do something, nobody could stop him. He had to figure it out himself.