“Reel” Pesky Grass

I don’t necessarily take “signs” too seriously. I don’t believe in astrology, horoscopes, fortune cookies, or any of that. I do, however, seriously hate cockroaches, and as my wife and I came closer to buying our first house, the cockroaches in our apartment impelled us with every step forward proportionally to the increasing frequency with which we met them.

Notwithstanding, the cockroaches weren’t the reason we wanted to buy a house. We actually really liked our apartment, and were very thankful for how well managed they were for being in our frugal price range. No, the apartments themselves weren’t bad apartments, and the neighbors were as friendly and peaceful as we could have asked for. What drove us to look for a house was grass.

We always wanted a lawn–a lawn big enough to kick a ball in… without dog droppings. I wanted a lawn so that I could plant a garden. My wife Cristina wanted a lawn so that she could deal with messy projects outside with the garden hose. We both wanted a lawn so that we could let our children get out of the house and play in the comfort of our own home.

With this desire in view, we pinched our pennies, and last year we finally closed the deal on a dandy little suburban ranch home with a level front and back yard. Having closed on the house in the Fall, the grass had already gone dormant, and we had plenty of time to figure out how we were going to arrange our lives inside the house before we ever had to deal with pesky yard work.

Before we had ever spent a dime on the yard, we decided that we wanted a reel mower. I didn’t want to contend with mixing 2-cycle gasoline for a brat mower that needed servicing every couple of months. Cristina wanted a mower that would be safe around our small children, so that they could play near her in the yard as she mowed. I also just didn’t want to be dependent on gasoline for a task as simple as cutting my grass.

So we had the idea that when the grass began to grow, we would buy a reel mower, but we didn’t really have any idea where to get one. Granted, we didn’t do much shopping, and we had actually planned on procrastinating that purchase until we needed it at the last minute. I had figured that we would have to order one from the Internet, where good ones seem like they go for around 100 bucks. Months went by…

Now, Cristina and I love to shop at thrift stores for children’s clothing. So, speaking of signs, lawns, and reel mowers, the Lord would have it that one day as we were shopping for clothing at one of our favorite thrift shops, we happened upon a beautiful, used Scott’s Classic reel mower for $25. BAM! Talk about a sign.

Now, the mower wasn’t in our budget at that time, but with Spring fast approaching, we knew we would need that bugger soon, so we grabbed that mower and guarded it like jewelry, and checked out our brand new (used) mower (and some much needed children’s clothing) with our handy 30% off coupon.

It was finally ours, and I couldn’t wait to try it out. When we got home, I pulled the mower out of our trunk, and set it on the wet grass in our front lawn. The blades were really dull, and initially I thought they would need to be sharpened before I would be able to cut anything. Notwithstanding, I couldn’t be stopped in that moment, and I began to push a reel mower for the first time in my life.

To my surprise, the grass got shorter! I didn’t quite understand what was happening, but I was well pleased with the results. I found out after closer examination that the “blades” on the reel don’t need to be sharp. Their job is to push the grass against a straight blade in the chassis and clip the grass at the chassis’ height. I was delighted, and mowed the entire front yard that first day.

So when Spring came, and the grass began to grow, Cristina and I often took turns mowing our little suburban yard and would take great pleasure in having a quiet, clean, odorless mower that was safe for our son Gershom to play near. Gershom, only 19 months old, even insisted on taking a turn pushing the mower himself. He needed assistance to make the blades turn, but had a blast regardless.

Over the next couple of months, we continued happily mowing our lawn with our bronze-age chopping machine, but we began to notice a few things about mowing with a reel mower. For one, it was harder to mow taller grass, and sometimes we had to double over patches of grass that were particularly tall to cut it “all the way”. We noticed that even very small sticks could jam the reel. Though it was easy to unjam by moving the blades with our toes, it was an extra thing to be aware of while mowing. We also noticed that if some grass got too long, the mower wouldn’t be able to cut it at all, because it would bend under the chassis. No problem–just don’t let the grass get that long, right?

In April, we left for a small 6 day vacation, during which time it rained nearly every day. When we came home, refreshed and spry with new youth, we realized that we weren’t the only ones being rejuvenated during our long weekend. Our lawn had become a new creature, and had grow to nearly a foot in some parts. Horrified, I took the mower out on the next dry day, praying for a miracle.

Have you ever had a friend that was really into sharp stuff who would proudly brandish his pocket knife and brag about how he could shave with it? Then you might say “Yeah, right,” and try to shave a patch of arm hair, and notice that, sure, your friend’s knife can shave hair, but it only shaves some of the hair. Some hair would be shaved, some half its length, and yet some would be entirely uncut, making that “shaved” patch on your arm look worse than either hairy or clean. The only way to actually shave off all of that hair would be to go over that patch of hair on your arm again and again with your friend’s stupid knife until it’s all the way clean shaven (or until your skin comes off).

Okay, so that’s never happened to you, but it’s a perfect illustration of what it was like to cut my yard that day. If I only went over the grass once, it was almost like nothing happened. If I went over the grass twice, it looked horrible, and worse than if I had left it uncut. To clear a small patch of grass when it was that long, we found out that we had to go over it nearly a dozen times in different directions to cut it down to a point where almost all of the grass was short enough. Even after passing over the grass so many times, there would still be a few pesky stalks that would refuse to get cut, which we would actually have cut afterwards with hand clippers!

Needless to say, getting the yard back into shape wasn’t a one day project. Indeed, it is now several weeks after the fact, and we have just finished reclaiming the yard a few days ago, cutting one small patch at a time every day, while making sure that the parts of the lawn that have already been cut stay short.

All of this trouble may seem like a needless waste of time. In fact, you might say that all of that struggling with long grass, a reel mower, and hand clippers would be a sign to ditch the reel mower and buy a “real” mower. The fact of the matter is, I don’t necessarily take “signs” too seriously. With our current mower, I know that the engine will never need to be serviced. I know that I will never run out of gasoline. I know that my five year old will always be able to mow grass without danger of injury.  I know that on top of actually being kind of fun, and on top of being a great workout, these are all things that, all in all, gain me liberty, and that makes a reel mower good enough for me.

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