I started pushing a powered lawn mower at age 11. It was nearly autumn in northern Missouri and the mowing season was winding to a close. The next summer, around the time I’d cross my twelfth birthday, I took over my family’s mowing business. 

Which is to say, I’d start getting paid to mow a few lawns that my brother closest in age to me, who had just graduated high school, passed down. The same ones passed down to him from the eldest brother, who was well into college by then.

Mrs. Hall’s yard kissed ours at the southeast corner of our quarter-acre property. Her backyard had a chain link fence we’d been hopping for years to retrieve errant wiffle balls. $10 to mow. It took me close to an hour for the job, pushing the mower back and forth in more or less parallel strokes. Plus, trimming with a gas-powered Stihl. When possible, I’d err on the side of, “It looks like it can hold for a week on the trimming,” and move on.

Mrs. Grover’s yard was a few doors north up our street. Englewood. On the left side. This yard was a little smaller, but a little rougher. A little less time, but more tree roots. Same pay.

In the years ahead, before I too would leave home for college and beyond, I’d add a small yard a kid named Mayhew passed along. A shotgun house on a shotgun lot a half-mile away. $7. 

My dad would drive me to that one with the mower riding perpendicular in the bed of the pickup truck, tied back against the left side so the handle extended up and out like a stiffened wing. I could have that yard done in 35 minutes. Max.

Somewhere along the way, as a teenager, I stopped mowing those lawns. I got typical teenage wage jobs. Fast food. Grocery store. I don’t know who took over those yards. I had no brother below me. I was the end of the line.

I didn’t like mowing. I didn’t like the noise vibrating in my ears. I didn’t like the vibration coursing from the engine up through the parallel, black metal bars that squared-off into a handle at the top. Then into my body. 

I didn’t like the allergic reaction I had to the flying grass and dust, either. I’d return home from a mowing job and dump a glass of water down my throat with my asthma medicine. Take a couple of puffs of an inhaler. And be glad I was done for another week or so. Responsibility off my shoulders, cash in my pocket.

Though, I knew that cash was light. Always. My dad was never comfortable asking for more from the client-neighbors, and I wasn’t comfortable going around him to say it for myself. Those lawns were mowed by a string of three brothers spanning what must have been more than a decade of summers. The pay for the job never budged. 

Sometime after I’d become a driving teenager, which would have occurred half a breath past the stroke of midnight on my 16th birthday had the DMV office been open then, I’d occasionally load the mower into the truck and drive myself out to the small church we attended on a gravel road outside town. My dad usually did it. He enjoyed mowing. 

A school teacher with summers free, my dad was active and outdoors much of the time. Tanned to the borders of his shorts and tank top. If he wasn’t mowing, then he was cultivating a vegetable garden. Or cycling or jogging or sailboarding on a local lake. His appreciation for the task of mowing might also partly explain why we would never have a riding lawn mower. 

When he was out of town and the church lawn needed to be mowed, it was my task. Same with our yard at home.

As a middle-aged dad to my own two sons now, I occasionally miss the task of mowing a lawn. I see why my dad liked the movement of it. It’s exercise that’s of use for a 40-something body that’s always at risk of getting too little of it. It can even be seen as meditative movement. Peaceful and metronomic, if violently loud and bone buzzing.

With my sons and wife, I now live at 8,000’ in the mountains of central Colorado. It’s not a conducive environment for lush grass lawns to grow. Yards of dirt, desert, weeds and stones line our neighborhood’s streets. 

But my sons, coming soon to 12 and 14 years of age, are asking to learn to mow. Not unlike I did decades ago when I thought it seemed like a masculine and grown-up thing to do. Pulling on the cord to call alive the engine that in turn cranks the blade at lethal speed. They’re curious. I get it. 

As I say, I once was their age. And was a lawn mower.

The Lawn Mower is #Six in the weekly memoir series, Among Other Things. What’s it about? Read Introducing ‘Among Other Things,’ A Weekly Memoir Series.