The greatest summers of my life were those I spent growing up and working on lawns. My sister had a boyfriend who started a summer lawn cutting business and for two summers I worked for him. The summer before I got my driver's license, I'd get picked up early in the morning with two mowers in the back of his car and then dropped at my first job by about 7.45 am and cut grass until the sun went down. On a good day, I could knock off 5 or 6 lawns. The sister's boyfriend would generally cover lunch as part of the pay and we'd often take breaks in the middle of the day for something cool to drink and some hoops, each of which were small but appreciated benefits to go along with the hard earned pay. His cousin often cut grass with me, and I still regale my kids with one of my favorite stories of finding my work partner asleep beneath a tree in the back yard of a job, the motor on the mower running to serve as decoy to anyone suspecting that he wasn't working. The innocence of such goofiness warms my heart, it really does.
The second summer of work I had my license, so would often ride my bike to the bosses houses, eat some quick breakfast, grab his car, and head out on the job. I can't fully describe how much I loved the sense of responsibility. There were a set number of tasks one had to be mindful of--clean mower blades, a fresh supply of gasoline and oil, some edgers in case a customer wanted some extra care around the walkways or driveways--and we were off to the races.
If I'd finish a job early, I'd ogle cars. Usually ones I knew we could never afford--Porsches, Fararis, MGs, Alfa Romeos. The North Shore suburbs of Milwaukee where I cut lawns in the late 1970s had great mid-century architecture, perfect driveways and alot of really nice cars. Once, a customer let me drive his 911 Porsche. "Take it for a spin," he said. "I trust you." I had just learned to drive stick and I was eager to test my mettle. I don't even remember the guys name but I suppose it doesn't matter. The trust was the thing.
I have another memory of punching bees to death. One particular lawn and yard--I can bring it up into my mind along with its prairie garden--was absolutely fat with bees and they were in business on this particular day. More annoying, oddly enough, than the usual gnats or mosquitoes that often haunted those parts of the Lake Michigan shore. But I was intrepid, or so I imagined, and as the bees swarmed around my head, I jabbed quick jabs, cutting through the air, knocking them down and then stepping on them to kill them. In true teen spirit, I then ran them over with the mower. It was very satisfying.
When I'm alone at home, I mess around with my collection of plants that I have accumulated over the years. I water and feed; I fertilize and re-plant; I clip and prune. Occasionally I bike over to the Botanic Garden shop and acquire a few more. It mildly scratches an itch.
But nothing--I tell you, nothing--will ever be as satisfying as those two summers.
What a time: Work. Sun. Air. Some really nice cars. And a few dead bees.