May 3, 2000–that fateful Wednesday. When I got up that morning at 5:30, I didn’t realize what an eventful day it would be. I had retired about nine years earlier, and Wednesday had become the day to mow the lawn. I remember that the weather was turning warmer—warm, that is, for Minnesota. It had been rainy, and the grass was getting tall. It was time to cut it for the first time that spring.
I was ready. The week before I had gone to Rostabelli’s hardware and had the lawn mower blade sharpened. Jim did it himself. I also had bought a new plug (it doesn’t pay to use the one from last year) and an air filter. On the way home I put fresh gas in the can. As soon as I got back, I put the blade and other stuff on the Mohawk. I really like the Mohawk. I’ve had this one seven years, and the one before, sixteen years. I filled the tank with gas and primed the engine. After about fifteen minutes of yanking the cord and adjusting the choke–it always takes long the first time you do it in the spring–the engine kicked over. So I knew I was set for the task next week.
I like to get up early. It’s quiet, and I can read the paper in peace. That Wednesday, as usual, I washed my face and didn’t shower or shave, since I like to do those things after I cut the grass. I put on an old dress shirt that had a spot on it from when I absentmindedly stuck an uncapped pen in the pocket (Bea is always getting on me to throw the shirt out), got into some old jeans, and put on a beat–up pair of Rockports.
I went downstairs to make breakfast, being very careful not to wake Bea. I know better than to wake her—she roars like a lioness protecting her cubs when I do.
I ate what I usually eat on Wednesdays: a bowl of Rice Krispies with one percent milk and half a banana, a piece of whole wheat toast with margarine, and black coffee. I made a big pot of coffee so that Bea could have some as soon as she came down. After two cups she usually starts talking.
I recall that I had just about finished my coffee and was looking at the obituary pages (no one I knew had died that day) when Bea walked in wearing her red bathrobe and red floppy slippers that our daughter had bought her from Target for Christmas. She went over to the coffee pot, her slippers slapping against the floor, and she poured herself a cup. She sipped it at first and, when it had cooled sufficiently, gulped the rest of it down. She then poured another cup and sat down opposite me at our kitchen table.
By this time I was on to the sports pages–the Twins were off to a good start. Bea drank her coffee slowly. I turned to the business section. The market was up, but two of the stocks I was following were down.
Bea finished her coffee and carefully placed her cup in the exact middle of her saucer. “It’s a good thing you’re mowing today,” she said. “The lawn’s starting to look like a jungle.”
I paused, envisioning our yard a haven for all sorts of wondrous creatures: Vividly-colored tropical birds screeching their exotic calls, all varieties of simians swinging in the trees, and beautiful, cat–like beasts waiting to pounce. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea.
Every Wednesday morning, starting in May and ending in November, for the last nine years I had been mowing the lawn. Before that, when I was working, it was every Saturday morning. I had been mowing lawns for about forty–five years, I realized, trying to tame nature. But why? Nature is inevitably going to win; it just grows back. So why was I going through all this trouble to keep it at bay? To impress (read: beat) my neighbor, Al Feckenburg? Maybe it was time to enjoy nature instead of fighting it…
“I’m not going to cut the grass today,” I said, having reached a decision.
“You feeling OK?” Bea said as she chewed on a piece of cold pizza she had retrieved from the refrigerator.
“Yeah, I’m feeling fine.”
“The grass is really getting tall,” she insisted. “It might rain tomorrow.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “The grass keeps growing, and there’s always the chance that it will rain.”
I turned to the comics and glanced at Peanuts.
“Well, then, what are you going to do today?”
“I’ve been thinking of sitting under that big maple in the back, reading a book and watching the birds,” I mused. “You know, in all the years we’ve lived here I never have done that?”
“Maybe that’s because when you go out there either the mosquitoes or the wasps attack you,” Bea jeered. “So when are you planning on mowing?”
“I don’t know, maybe never.”
Bea put down the remains of the pizza and looked at me over her glasses. “Don’t tell me you’re finally going to hire a lawn service.”
“Why would I do that?” I said. “If I want the lawn mowed, I can do it myself.”
Bea picked up her pizza again and started to read the obituary notices. “I see where Sarah Jensen died,” she said.
“Edmund, don’t you remember anything? She and her husband filled in for the Krenshaws at bridge last year.”
“You mean I met her once, a year ago, and I’m supposed to remember her?”
Bea went to the refrigerator, took out another piece of pizza, and poured herself a glass of orange juice. “What brought this all on?” she said.
“What, not remembering Sarah Jensen?”
“No,” she said. “Not cutting the grass.”
“I don’t know exactly. Maybe it’s because I’m seventy–one and having the neatest lawn in the neighborhood isn’t that important anymore. Besides there’s no way I can beat Al Feckenburg. I concede him the championship.”
I was looking at the bridge column, now.
“You can’t just leave the grass grow,” she persisted. “The town’ll get after you.”
“I can always cover it over with concrete.”
Bea dropped her pizza and shot up like she had just sat on a tack. “Concrete? Now you’re just talking crazy!”
“Maybe we should sell the house and the lawn, and move to some place like Australia?”
Bea sat back down and sighed. “Edmund, just what has come over you? Maybe you ought to see Dr. Ellenbogen.”
“I don’t need to. I’m fine. Maybe we ought to think about the rut we’re in. Maybe we should stop doing things just because we’ve always done them.”
“Maybe I should stop cooking?” she tested.
“Maybe. We eat too much anyway.”
“And maybe I should stop cleaning house.”
“Maybe. We don’t need this big house anymore. Trudy moved out a long time ago, and she isn’t going to move back or have any children for us to put up. We can get rid of that crib and playpen you’ve been storing in the attic. Maybe we should live in a hut or a tent…”
Bea bit her lip and silently took her plate, cup and saucer, and glass, and rinsed them in the sink before placing them in the dishwasher.
“Where is this all heading?”
I didn’t answer her. I didn’t know where it was heading.
That day I went outside and sat under the maple with a book I had wanted to read for a long time. I watched some robins pecking for worms, and the chickadees frenetically flying to and from the bird feeder. I listened for the silence. It was a little cool, but there were no mosquitoes or wasps to bother me. I didn’t do anything constructive all day, but I felt my heart pumping, and that was good. I couldn’t wait to see the next morning. Maybe I’d get up to watch the sunrise, or maybe I’d pull the covers over my head and spend the rest of the day in bed.
Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now