After my dad died, I collected anything I could get my hands on that he owned. His watch, jacket, a boy scout compass. Tools that more than likely I will never use (or even know how to use) and box to keep them in. The list goes on and on. I do this not because I can’t move on but, in my mind, they help to keep his memory a little more tangible and when I pick up his scent still lining a jacket he wore, it justifies the collection. So I hold them all close to me whether or not I know how to use what I can only guess is some sort of wrench. This summer though, I had to say goodbye to one of my items. This summer, I had to say goodbye to my Lawn Boy.
The spring of 1990, the lawnmower my dad had been using for as long as I was alive had finally quit. Up until it’s death, dad kept it going with duct tape, zip ties, and hose clamps (and a new sparkplug every year). The lawnmower was about 15 years old, which in lawnmower years is like 175 years old. So it was time we got a new one. Dad and I went to Sears to look for a new lawnmower. Four minutes later we were walking out with our new Lawn Boy (my father was not one for “browsing”). The silver paint on the body shined. The 2 cycle engine would never be as clean as it was that day. The collection bag was taut. As a teenage boy with his attention constantly occupied by girls, sports, or just loud noises, Lawn Boy was impressive even to me. My dad and I would spend the next few hours kneeling in grass of our front yard prepping Lawn Boy. It was then time to cut. Back and forth and, my dad emphasized, in straight lines. My dad showed me how to do it. The man who, on most days, could barely walk in a straight line was pushing a lawnmower straight as an arrow (One pass across the front yard my line looked more like turns on the Pacific Coast Highway…I needed some more practice.).
Every spring through early fall, Lawn Boy went to work. My lines got straighter which meant my dad felt the need to cut less. Lawn Boy began to show the effects of use. Grass stains on the collection bag that had begun to lose it’s original tautness. The plastic wheels got scuffed. The oil I spilled around the base of the engine had dried to the point where it wasn’t even worth trying to clean off. But Lawn Boy, with one good pull on his chord, fired up every time.
10 years later, when I got married, my dad gave me Lawn Boy. I couldn’t have been more happy had he handed me Thor’s hammer Mjolnir and told me I was now a Thunder God. He was moving on to a self-propelled mower and thought, since Lawn Boy was only 85 years old (lawnmower years), I could use him. And use him I did. Grass, rocks, tree branches, mulch, woodland creatures, kids toys, anything that stayed stationary as we passed by, Lawn Boy and I cut up and deposited to the collection bag.
Recently, the years of use had finally begun to take its toll on Lawn Boy. Things started to break on him. He needed more than the Home Depot lawnmower tune up kit I prepped him with every spring (bottle of 2 stroke engine oil/sparkplug/air filter/gaskets). Now I was duct taping and clamping. The pull chord snapped in the middle and had to be knotted together and rewound around the engine. A broken wheel in the front made turns with Lawn Boy like making a u-turn in an alley with a Cadillac. The collection bag ripped at its corners and the bottom drug along the ground. The engine spewed blue smoke when I ran it for too long.
This past summer was it. No amount of duct tape or home fabricated fixes could stop the inevitable. So I brought Lawn Boy out one last time in the beginning of October. It was like Cal Ripken Jr’s last All-Star game as an Oriole (he was MVP). Lawn Boy was magnificent. It was like he knew this was to be our final cut together. The engine didn’t choke to life on the first tug of the chord, it roared to life. The blue smoke was held back and after years of dormancy, the air filter worked. The duct tape held at the corners of the collection bag. The front broken wheel, defying the laws of gravity, held on to its axle. The sun broke through the clouds and I cut what may have been the straightest lines in my lawn ever (I also may have over-exaggerated about the sun breaking through the clouds but it was dramatic to be sure).
Today, Lawn Boy is sitting in my garage, against the wall. Much to my wife’s chagrin, I’m going to wait until spring to get rid of him (she parks in the garage…did I mention Lawn Boy has been bumped into by a VW Jetta multiple times too?). I’m keeping Lawn Boy partly because I’m too cheap to buy a new one. Partly because I’m hoping one more round of duct tape and hose clamps might work (and maybe I’ll find out one of the tools I have can fix him). And partly because that silly old lawnmower I kept for far longer than I should have, helps me go back to my parents’ front yard again kneeling with my dad, as the two of us prep our new lawnmower together, 20 years ago…or 233 years in lawnmower years.