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The fine art of mowing

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014 5:30 a.m. CST

Chains were one of the first things a growing boy had to learn. That was followed by gas and oil. The first was for survival, the second, more importantly, meant money.

When we were young, all the kids I knew virtually lived on their bikes in the summer. They took us everywhere we had to be. To us, a bike was everything a car would later become: transportation, freedom, adventure, fun.

As everyone who has ever ridden a bike knows, chains invariably come off. You couldn't always wait for your father to come home from work to take care of them, so you had to do it yourself. In a way, it may have been the first step to becoming an adult, taking care of your own problem. You had to fix the chain on your sister's bike when it came off, too. That was a lesson in taking care of your family.

Gas and oil were an entirely differently matter.

In those days, girls made money babysitting and having Kool-Aid stands. Except for a paper route, which were hard to get, about the only way boys could make money was from mowing yards.

Then, as now, lawn mowers required a certain amount of gas and oil. To stay in business, you had to maintain both without burning up your engine – and your father, since it was his mower you were using. Again, it was something you had to learn and not depend on someone else to do it for you. You also had to learn to clean the blades of the mower when you were done.

In most cases, the going rate for a lawn was $1. That sounds like nothing today, but a boy could get a lot with a dollar back then. Comic books cost 12 cents; baseball cards, a nickel; small candy bars, a nickel; large ones, a dime; a bottle of pop – no one had cans – was also a dime. What else did you need?

A retired couple who lived down the block from me paid $5. We didn't know why they paid more, and we didn't care. Unfortunately, a pair of brothers who lived next door to them had an unspoken agreement to do their lawn every week. It was only when the brothers went on summer vacation that the prized lawn was open to the rest of us. Since the couple got along so well with my parents, I usually got it, much to the envy of the others.

Mowing a lawn is a bit of an art form. Not only don't you want to miss anything, you want to make your rows neat and orderly. My father taught me to alternate: one time you mow horizontally, the next time, vertically. Sometimes, when I'm in a quirky mood, I'll mow at 45-degree angles. Apparently, it's good for the grass to mow it differently each time.

Even today, I don't mind mowing. It's good exercise and it makes more sense than going to a gym. I don't understand paying to work out in a gym, then paying someone else to mow your lawn. It's all exercise.

One of the advantages of mowing a yard is that it gives you time to think, to reflect on whatever is going on in your life or the world. It's also a great way to relieve stress. I don't know how many column ideas I have composed while going up and down the same grass over and over. Actually, that's how I came up with this one.

And then, when you're done, there's a sense of satisfaction at seeing how good your lawn looks. Plus, what is more summer-like than the smell of a freshly mowed lawn?

I may not ride a bike anymore, but thank goodness, I can still mow a yard.

But it costs a lot more than $1.

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