I was browsing through a resale shop the other day and saw something that used to strike fear into the hearts of many adolescent boys back when I was one myself. It wasn’t any sort of weapon and it wasn’t a paddle that our grade school principal had in his office. It wasn’t anything that most people would think of as scary, really. It was a simple grass trimmer.
Oh no, it wasn’t a string trimmer and it didn’t use gasoline or electricity. It was a hand-operated tool, simple in design and easy to understand. No instructions were needed, really. You just put it in your hand and squeezed. And there’s the rub. You squeezed and squeezed, over and over. Maybe hundreds of times. Enough for me to end up with multiple blisters on my hand. You squeezed until your hand ached and still had more to do. You squeezed until you thought you couldn’t squeeze any more, but you were only halfway up one side of the sidewalk. Then you switched hands and squeezed some more. I guess since it was the only alternative at the time, it was just a fact of life that you had to use this blister-busting machine if you wanted that manicured look on your lawn. Personally, my twelve year old mind was convinced that the devil himself must have devised this instrument of torture. My mom loved the look of the yard when I trimmed each blade of grass to the exactly even length these clippers produced, and I have to admit it looked great, too, but I never thought for a minute that it was worth the agony of using this gizmo. In fact, if the truth be known, I hated those clippers with the passion of the legendary Kraken trying to take down a schooner filled with sailors. I wanted it to disappear, never to be seen again. But those grass clippers came back, season after season, to haunt my otherwise carefree summer days. I didn’t whack weeds. I didn’t eat weeds. I slayed them. But I hated it. I didn’t mind mowing the yard with the push mower, and I really didn’t mind sweeping the sidewalk after mowing. It was that one little item that made me want to run away and join the circus.
It wasn’t until the middle 1970s that the gas or electric powered string trimmers showed up. They were an instant hit with homeowners and yard mowers everywhere. In fact, millions were sold in the first years of production. They are ‘string trimmers’ by design but several manufacturers came up with their own trade names. My favorite name came from an Australian friend of mine — he calls them “whipper snippers.” They all work in a similar fashion — the nylon line gets spun at high speed and chews through grass, weeds, and occasionally a frog or any other small critter that gets in the way. Sad but inevitable that such a destructive tool sometimes destroys too much — of course these devil machines eat up tulips, daisies and daffodils just as fast as ragweed and dandelions.
To me, though, nothing is better than saving my wrists from the horrible cramps those hand trimmers of old used to produce. There are very few childhood memories that remind me of the pain and suffering those evil devices caused. As I looked over the now-vintage relic in that resale shop, I decided then and there to end the reign of terror of the dreaded hand-operated grass trimmer. I paid the proprietor the fifty cents he was asking, and I took it to the car. I painted the thing bright red just like it came from the factory and I donated it to the local museum. It’s now proudly displayed along with a reel type lawn mower and a scythe used to harvest wheat. And it’s safe from being used ever again. Maybe shovels are next on my list. I never liked those either.