Every three days in the summer, our neighbor, I’ll call her Irene, fires up her red Toro riding mower at 8am and races around her raised beds like Mario Andretti’s mother. Scooting around their half-acre for a mere fifteen minutes, Irene trims the entire lawn to exactly 2.5 inches. Her husband follows behind with the regular push mower to touch up the edges, standing back every few minutes to puff on his cigar and admire his wife as she whirls around the dogwood border.
Don’t get me wrong. I like Irene. And I like a tidy lawn. With her snappy short hairstyle and determined driving, Irene is the model of womanly competence and lawn care efficiency.
We are fairly new to the neighborhood. The previous owners, from strong Pennsylvania stock, probably agronomists, took very good care of the yard, mulching to the recommended height of 3 inches around the shrubs and clipping back rogue branches. They also had four home-schooled children to help. We rely on just my husband, me and an apparently helpless 14-year old daughter who rakes for ten minutes and suddenly remembers a ten page Human Geography report she has to write, and runs inside for the rest of the day.
We were unaware of the neighborhood vegetation protocol when we signed the papers at our real estate closing last year. And with our twenty-four trees, forty-seven shrubs and a man-made pond complete with draping waterfall and aquatic turtle, we feel pressure to toe the landscaping line, but we don’t want to overdo it. That would require hiring a lawn service.
My husband Jim was the first to fall victim to lawnmower envy. Responsible for pushing our faded red mower 182 times across the back forty each week, Jim was entranced by the speed and handling of Irene’s Toro. Plus, the general ease of a riding lawnmower would allow him to drink beer and drive at the same time. By midsummer he was deep into negotiations with Ted across the street for a used Cub Cadet that wasn’t mulching adequately.
“I’ll send her in and get her checked out” said Ted, peering out from beneath his Cubs cap and cracking gum as he snapped privet clippings into a tall lawn bag. Jim agrees to pay the cost to get the mower fixed, plus an extra $200. The deal goes down in late October, right before the first big leaf fall of November.
While we waited for the mower, I raked out the flower beds, scooping up leaves with my hands and dragging twelve leaf bags out to the street for pick up. I tried to imagine how many years I could stand doing this.
Happy Holidays! The Cub Cadet, a cheery school bus yellow and outfitted with not one, but two molded drink holders, turned up in the driveway in early December. Ted’s wife thought the red Christmas bow on the grill was a cute touch. Thrilled, Jim rode it around and around the back yard in a light rain, practicing his turns and waving at us each time he drove by. He was so entranced he didn’t realize he was wearing grooves into the yard that lasted until March.
Nearly a year has passed since the Cub Cadet was added to the family. Irene only mows once a week now and I can’t remember the last time Jim mowed. But twenty-four trees drop a lot of leaves and needles and so Jim, liking gadgets and manly equipment, was ankle deep in leaves on Saturday talking to the guy who lives behind us who has a nifty pull-behind leaf catcher. I know we can rent one for the few times we need it, but I have a feeling I’ll be parking the car over another foot in the garage to make room for the latest addition. At least I know Jim will never be mowing every three days like Irene does. We never have enough beer in the fridge.