This morning I woke up and something seemed wrong. Nothing horrible, nothing catastrophic, but definitely off-kilter. It took me a minute to process what was going on. All I heard was the quiet drone of a mower. And suddenly that was it. It wasn’t a small push mower that I heard. It wasn’t the kind of mower that you pulled on the rope to get it going. It was a commercial grade mower that you ride around on pulling and pushing levers to make it go this way or that. It was a high-horsepower thing that you ride up and down the ramp to the big trailer with other mowers and an assortment of weed trimmers and drums of gasoline. And that’s when I realized what seemed wrong. The days of the neighbor kid pushing a mower down the street were gone. The days when a kid could make movie money or bicycle money or money to buy a tent to camp out in the backyard. And I guess that’s the point. It isn’t just that I heard a high powered machine doing the work of a twelve year old in minutes instead of an hour. I have nothing against efficiency or technology (the mowing guy now uses satellite navigation to get him to the next mowing job). I guess it’s something more basic.
I don’t know how long it’s been since I saw a twelve year old kid dragging his parent’s push mower down the street, gas can in one hand and a rag in the other. The thing is, I don’t see twelve year old boys doing anything to make money anymore. I’m not saying that they don’t, but I haven’t seen any evidence of it. Maybe they don’t need to because their parents just give them money for whatever they want. I do remember a kid in my fifth grade class that seemed to have life figured out. His dad made him get out on Saturday morning to mow the yard. My classmate had different plans, though. He dutifully started pushing the mower back and forth across the ankle-high grass. It cut the overgrown grass beautifully. It cleanly cut the marigolds his mom planted along the sidewalk. It also cut the daisies and the bottom of the tomato plant. His dad had enough when it cut the garden hose he told his boy to move earlier that morning. Dad took the mower handles and told junior to get back in the house before he wrecked it. Dad zero, junior one. The outcome was that junior still got his allowance and still got to watch Saturday morning cartoons.
Maybe lawn mowing was too dangerous for kids, but I don’t remember any of my friends getting any injuries from the activity. I do remember my classmate buying his first car, a 1965 Mustang, with money he made mowing grass less than one block from his house. And all without a hundred horsepower gas guzzling orange mower that required a trailer pulled by a fifty thousand dollar pickup truck. That kid now owns eleven fast-food restaurants and still has the Mustang.
So now every time I see a trailer full of mowing and blowing equipment, I’m a little sad for the kids that don’t get the joy of knowing that they can get things they need or want by spending a couple hours working for it. I wonder what they’ll do when they get laid off from their job. Maybe they’ll still get to watch Saturday morning cartoons and get an allowance, of some sort. While Dad does the work as a greeter at Walmart.