Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Mower and the Man

The following is a really funny story from Eddie's childhood. He's taking classes at PVCC, and this was an assignment for his English class--the assigned essay was to be a narration of a childhood event or memory. He has so many to choose from . . . but he did finally pick this one. I enjoyed it, the kids enjoyed it, the professor enjoyed it. I hope you will too. I have his permission to reprint it here, and it is copyrighted to him, 2009.

The Mower and the Man

Lawnmowers don’t cut water. I can tell you this with absolute certainty because I have first-hand knowledge. For those who may not know this, back in the early 1970’s, safety features were few and far between on your average homeowner’s riding mower. Had there been a kill-switch back then, I wouldn’t be telling this story today. One of the most memorable events of my early childhood occurred on an otherwise normal summer day in Florida, when the struggle between man and machine was fought out before my eyes. It was the day my father drove the riding mower into our swimming pool.

Before you start wondering, let me assure you that this was neither a normal nor a planned event. Up until this day, it had been an uneventful summer. When I was a child, we lived at the end of a cul-de-sac in the small town of North Palm Beach, Florida. Because we were at the end of this cul-de-sac, our backyard was the largest on the street. My brothers and I lived in our backyard, quite literally, primarily because of the plethora of fruit trees growing there. We had orange, grapefruit (both pink and white), tangerine, lime, lemon, coconut, and avocado trees to choose from, though the avocados actually belonged to the neighbor and hung over the fence into our yard. We therefore had an unending supply of snacks anytime we wanted them. The yard was a sandy grassy one. It was in the shape of an equilateral triangle, with the base running parallel with the back of the house. It was fenced in, and was just the perfect place to play as a young child. The backyard called to us, and not having to run inside for food made it a paradise. This paradise also included an in-ground pool. On this particular day, my older brother, Tom, and I had been playing as usual. We heard the riding mower coming from the side yard, our father at the wheel. My mother and two other brothers were blissfully going about their business inside, unaware of what was about to occur.

Riding the lawn mower, which he had only recently purchased, and having finished mowing in the front, my father now entered the backyard. I don’t remember the day when the mower was purchased, but I do remember its being new. It had been purchased at Sears & Roebuck (yes, I said Sears & Roebuck—this was the 1970’s after all). You could read the Craftsman brand name on the sides of the fenders. It wasn’t much of a mower compared to today’s standards; it had a rectangular frame, four wheels, a rear engine surrounded on three sides by red sheet metal fenders, a seat, and a steering wheel. My father’s not having enough experience behind the wheel of this newly purchased lawn mower would not have been such a bad thing had our backyard not contained that in–ground pool. As you can imagine, my brothers and I spent a lot of time in that pool. However, on this day, Tom and I decided to relocate our activities to the screened-in porch so that our father could continue his mowing. As he cut the grass in a pattern, he drew closer and closer to the pool. With the rest of the backyard cut, it was now time for the delicate task of mowing the grass around the edge of the pool. My brother and I watched as Dad drove the mower perpendicular to the edge of the pool, to avoid throwing clippings into it, stopped, and then backed up, moved over, and repeated the process. In theory, this seemed to be a sound technique. After doing this a few times, he pulled up to the edge one more time. He placed the mower in reverse, cocked his head to look behind him, let off the clutch, and, much to everyone’s surprise, the mower lurched forward toward the pool. The moment he released the clutch, the struggle began.

My brother and I watched our father’s normally relaxed, sun-tanned face change to one of perplexity and surprise, as he realized the severity of the situation. His immediate thought must have been to prevent the mower from driving into the pool. However, his immediate reaction, though poorly chosen, was to throw his feet down to the ground; and with a death grip on the steering wheel, he would hold the mower back. What my father did not realize was that the mower would not be held back. (What my brother and I did not realize was that this would not be the only event in our lives in which we would watch our father struggle with machines.) With the rear wheels still engaged, and with the strength of ten horses, for that was the power rating of the engine, the front end reared up toward the sky. He fought to pull it back down, and it reared up again. After the third struggle to pull the mower back, his face changed to show the realization that he could not win this battle; it was a face of defeat. Acknowledging to himself that the mower was going in the pool with or without him, he simply let go. Looking like a scene that Wile E. Coyote concocted, the mower shot out over the pool, hung in mid-air for that brief second, and splashed down as only an Apollo capsule could.

Being a child, I had no understanding of the seriousness of this event. I never considered that my father could have been seriously injured. Seeing a lawn mower launch itself into such an incongruous location as the bottom of a pool was pure entertainment. Had there been a safety switch in the seat as mowers have today, this event never would have been entered into the chronicles of my history, and one of the most entertaining days of my childhood never would have occurred. How my father got the mower out of the pool is a story for another day.

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debra said...

I am smiling. What a great story!

John Edgar Park said...

That's hilarious! Thanks Eddie for painting such a vivid picture of it!