I can remember the long days before school let out for summer as a gift. Leaving the house in the morning wearing a sweatshirt which would be left in my school locker because it was simply too damn nice not to be in short sleeves when the dismissal bell rang. The bus ride home would be a flurry of sounds of the passengers making plans and wind blowing in from every open window.
I’d get home and grab a quick bite to eat of whatever was handy. With six kids in the house the choices quickly downgraded as the week progressed farther from the grocery shopping trip made on Saturday. Mondays offered chips, cookies and a tall, cold soda. By Thursday I was stirring a pitcher of Kool-Aid and spreading peanut butter on Ritz crackers. It was never a big deal because I had a good four or five hours of daylight left and food was just fuel, not something to enjoy.
Sometimes we’d find a note with chores that needed to be done. Sometimes we just knew what was expected by the time Dad got home. I can remember hustling behind the lawn mower, the pungent, blue exhaust mixed with the smell of the sweet, green grass. The twenty year old engine roared in my ears for the whole forty minutes it took. These were the days before we all wore headphones so the noisy mower was all you could hear. Now that I think of it, I really don’t have any idea what my lawnmower sounds like anymore…
After cutting the grass I’d hop on my bike and ride. Some days had a purpose and somdays were just a wandering adventure. I’d ride to Brian’s house to ride his ramp. I’d bomb down the hill to the Turkey Hill store to get an orange drink and a TastyKake fudge bar. Sometimes I’d just ride around the neighborhood with a quick stop at the dirt jump near the church. The salty sweat would drip down my forehead and sting my eyes. By the time I had to get home for dinner my appetite had grown to a huge proportion.
My step mom would get home first and start making dinner. My dad would show up a bit later and we’d all sit down for dinner together every night. Dad was big on family dinner. I can remember more often than not he’d come home in a bad mood. It was amazing how the chill would come over the house. We’d all be tentative as we waited to see where he went with his frustration.
Trying to get on his good side, I’d let him know that I did cut the back yard as soon as I got home from school. He’d never really acknowledge my work as it was considered my contribution, not something worthy of praise. I was just trying to head off the question before he asked. After dinner he’d bark out some orders and turn on the TV while the coffee pot brewed the next few cups he’d drink before bed. He’d sit at the dining room table, the geocentric center of our house, and smoke his cigarettes and maybe watch the news or Jeopardy. It always amazed me how he could just smoke and drink coffee all evening right up until he went to bed.
Often he’d wander out into the back yard to look over his vegetable garden. That garden had a little bit of everything growing in it, except weeds. He made sure we got
them all on the weekends. As he was trodding back to the house he called my name. I snapped to attention and presented before him. He looked left and right and told me I cut the grass wrong. For the life of me I had no idea how that was possible. I just stared at him. He pointed to the lawn and waving his hand from side to side he said “You cut the grass East to West. That’s how you cut it last time. You were supposed to go North to South. You’re gonna wear goddam ruts in my lawn from cutting the grass the same way every week.”
When he’d say things like this my mind would jump into overdrive. I’d wonder if that was really true. Had I ever seen a lawn with ruts from the wheels of the mower? How many times would it take? Could I really cut the grass in precisely the same path every time to cause said ruts? The mower was 24” wide and it took a good 50 passes to cut the grass. Do I always start at the same point and trace the same route? Was it even possible?
Now, I could never say these things out loud. Early on I had learned that it was best not to try to talk to him when he was going off. It just fueled the fire. So I’d end up staring blankly at him until I mumbled “I’ll cut it the other way next week”.
“No” he replied, “Go get the mower and cut it again. North to South this time!”
The sun was setting behind the trees as I once again gassed up the mower and rolled it out of the garage. Here I was cutting the grass for the second time this afternoon. Figuring it may be easier this time as there would be less resistance, I’d just keep my head down and focus on keeping the lines straight in the dwindling light. Once I finished I’d look over the yard to make sure I hadn’t missed any spots. Putting the mower away, I walked into the house and filled a glass with water and said “I’m done”. He barely noticed and I went downstairs to the cool basement.
My number one rule in life is “There’s no excuse for being a dickhead”. Looking back, I wonder if episodes like this taught me that lesson. One thing I learned for sure was that parents teach their kids what to do but it’s up to the child to learn what not to do.