I didn’t just rise to the bait.
I breached like a whale.
The year would have been 1967, the time would’ve been spring. Time to mow.
“You,” a sibling said, “are too little to mow.”
“Are too,” another sibling chimed in.
“Are too. Leave this to the grownups.”
“Nuh-uh, I’ll show you!”
And I did. Wrestled that lawnmower all up and down the family yard, which being in the mountains was sort of like mowing The Matterhorn.
I showed them.
Showed them for about 20 years, as it turned out. Once size and IQ requirements for mowing were set they were set in stone at la casa Buchanan.
Lawns are one reason I’m not a big fan of spring and summer. Between the mowing and weed whacking and other various and sundry chores we all essentially lose a day a week until the leaves fall.
Now, I’m no gardener, but I don’t begrudge gardeners. At least they get something to eat out of the experience.
Lawns, I dunno. Maybe it’s my childhood trauma but when it comes to lawns there has always lurked in the back of my mind this sneaking suspicion that we’ve been had.
In the course of human events, lawns are a relatively new development. Back in the castle era trees were cut down and lawns cropped close to keep intruders/barbarians/timeshare salesmen from sneaking up on you. A bit later on, lawns were a status symbol of the wealthy, as the time and labor required to get a lush, green, evenly-trimmed lawn was hideously expensive.
Later on, after the invention of the lawnmower, lawns began to spread across America, and went into warp drive with the advent of the cookie-cutter housing developments that began springing up across America after World War II.
If you’re old enough, you probably recall a radically different type of yard here in the mountains: Dirt.
You probably recall an aunt or grandma sweeping such a yard. You probably remember thinking to yourself: “Why sweep dirt?”
In the case of one beloved aunt, the explanation seemed pretty simple: It removed the, er, evidence of chickens in the yard. Families were big and there were always kids crawling around, so it was a simple matter of hygiene.
Another reason I’ve heard put forth is that the dirt yard was a tradition brought to these shores from Africa. There, sweeping the yard would smooth out the sand; smooth, swept sand is what you want if you’re looking for a snake track. The yard would provide evidence that a creepy crawly had entered the old homestead.
While mountain people were practical and not shy about borrowing anything that worked from any culture, I’m sticking with the chicken theory for the most part. Sure, there were plenty of snakes around the coves and hollows, and plenty of gaps and openings for them to get inside houses, but sweeping the yard wouldn’t have helped track a snake.
Mountain clay gets hard to the point it could repel antiaircraft fire. You couldn’t track an elephant on that stuff.
In the end, as with so many other things, you wonder if the old-timers weren’t onto something.
As is, the dirt yard is as dead as the dodo and we’re all dealing with mower blades, trimmer string, fertilizer and the hundred or so other things that have taken the place of a simple straw broom.
’Tis the lot of our age. Gotta keep that yard neat and trimmed.
To do otherwise would be to attract snakes. Or timeshare salesmen.
Buchanan is editor of The Sylva Herald.