Seasons in the Sun, Part 1

When I was a kid growing up in little Windsor, Missouri, population 2,714, my summers consisted of three almost daily activities - mowing, swimming, and baseball. My brothers and I mowed yards in the summer to earn a few bucks of our own. Most every summer my Grandpa Barnes would fix up a little reconditioned mower for his grandsons, usually about a 21 inch cut with a 3.5 horsepower Briggs & Stratton engine, knowing full well that we would tear it up, bend the crankshaft, and otherwise abuse and destroy a mower that should have lasted for several years.

Being the youngest, as my brothers moved on to other jobs, their yards were often passed on to me. My busiest summer I had twenty-two yards to mow, though fortunately only three of them were large - Zinn's, Simmon's, and Kirkpatrick's. Some were so small I could mow them in twenty minutes. Believe it or not, for some of my smallest yards I was paid one dollar. No kidding. Mrs. Roop and Granny Powers. One buckaroo. Granny was a wonderful lady as many of my Windsor friends will recall. I would have mowed her yard for nothing. It was just fun to see her and talk a little while and hear her laugh. Sometimes Mrs. Roop would bring me a glass of ice water which was usually a mixed blessing. She only brought the water when she was making an extra request. I will never forget this conversation:

"Drew, have you noticed how the back yard grows so much faster than the front?"
"Yes, I have. The back does grow a lot faster."
"Well, next time you mow, I want you to mow the front faster and the back slower."
"Okay, Mrs. Roop, if you say so. Do you think that will help?"
"I don't know for sure, but let's try it."

And so I did, real fast in front and slow motion in the back, with little effect as you might expect. Mrs. Allen's yard just down the street was slightly larger and I pocketed a cool $1.50 from that job. Funny thing about Mrs. Allen was helping her with an unusual household task. Once a month or so, she would ask me or one of my brothers to flip her mattress for her, which we did for no extra charge. Now, Mrs. Allen might have weighed 85 pounds sopping wet, but she never failed to get that mattress turned. I'll bet when that great gettin' up morning finally comes, Mrs. Allen will probably just flip that mattress and lay right back down.

Most of the time I had company as I pushed my mower around town carrying my one gallon gas can. My dog, Jenny, usually came along. She would sit on the porch or under a tree watching me go back and forth and waiting for me to get finished. What she liked best was the walk home, because we usually stopped by our little walk up Dairy Queen for root beer floats - a medium for me and a special small one in a bigger cup for the dog. Jenny loved root beer floats and the bigger cup kept her face from getting so sticky. Only in a small town will they let you special order a root beer float for your dog.

Mowing yards was a great job for kid like me. I learned to meet people and to listen to their instructions and to do a good job for them. And I learned to be careful, too. I used to mow in an old pair of low cut, canvas Converse Chuck Taylors, turned to a dirty green from all the grass stains. One damp morning I was mowing the ditch at Jay Simmon's house and I slipped in the wet grass. My foot went forward and the mower rolled back over it. I flinched and jerked and pushed the mower up and off my foot. Looking down I could see my little toes wiggling, the rubber toe of my Converse sheared right off. Pretty scary. When I got home, Mom noticed my shoe. I told her I had cut the rubber toe off to make my shoes cooler. But why just one shoe? I guess I needed the safety lecture again after all.

Nothing like the smell of fresh cut grass and the taste of cold root beer on a summer day. And nothing like being able to buy my own baseball cards and put my own offering in the plate. Nothing like summertime where I grew up.


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