I was probably twelve years old or close to that age. This would have been 1954, or thereabouts – pre-television, air-conditioning (at least for us), etc. Perhaps I was entering puberty, and perhaps not given my size and physical maturity. If I was, I assure you I didn’t know what was going on.
I had hay-fever. I’ve had it all my life. Still do. Allergies – lots of ’em. If I had all the tissue (Kleenex?) boxed up that I have used to blow and wipe, I’d probably have a small warehouse full. Lots of headaches. Tough it out. Dr. Gallemore had it in my record, early on: “Hay-fever.” It kept me out of ROTC at UGA – the only good thing that has ever come of it. But, that’s another story.
Why I’m about to write about this, I don’t know. I’ve written of it, before, and mentioned it several times. When I wrote before, it wasn’t unique or different. Lots of boys were mowing grass for hire at twelve. I mentioned Bobby Jones and his lawn mowing jobs when I wrote about his life, a few weeks ago. What I should say is that in 1954, it wasn’t unique. Twelve year old boys don’t mow for hire, today. Fact is, most of ’em don’t do anything much except watch television and fool with iphones and ipads. That’s not totally true, but it is partially true.
Daddy believed in making me work. And, he did. It, the work, taught me lots and helped me as I have dealt with life. But, despite my acknowledgment of his wisdom that doesn’t mean I liked many of the things I was required (and that’s a gentle word for it) to do. Let me elaborate.
About the same time of my life that I acquired mowing customers, I was also inducted into the cotton picking business. Yes, in the 1950s, it was “by hand.” This was serious with Daddy, and, consequently, taken seriously by me. I despised the cotton picking business, but I labored on, as required, and learned many things that have served me well as I have dealt with life. Cotton picking, too, has been written about by me several times, so let me try to move on, briefly, and then back to lawn mowing.
In “moving on,” let me pause and tell you about the worst job (based on my ability to do it) that I ever had. Daddy was in “the tractor business” and as a result had a “tractor place” with, what to me, at age 15, or so, seemed to be a very large parts department. The parts department was where his farmer customers came to buy tractor, combine, mower, planter, plow, fertilizer spreader, etc., etc. parts when one broke or was lost being that “little fitting and clip that goes up under the shaft just below the engine by the back right wheel on a G Allis-Chalmers.”
What you need, mental wise, to be a good parts person, I don’t’ know. I do know this: If you need to be “right brain,” I was “left brain” or vice-versa. I don’t think I ever, by myself, found one part for one farmer in those huge parts books. I would still be looking for the fitting and clip for the G Allis-Chalmers tractor, today, if I was still in parts. I didn’t try to do this job for very long before I was moved to another department – like sweeping up, etc.
But, back to grass mowing with a quick swipe at cotton picking. I’d say grass mowing and cotton picking weren’t ideal jobs for a person that had a medical record for hay-fever. Lots of nose running and headaches which for youngsters in the 1950s was a pretty lame excuse. This excuse didn’t cut it, back then, like it would today.
I had a Briggs and Stratton mower (I’ll call it B and S) because that’s what Daddy sold. I had to pay for it out of the grass mowing proceeds. I also, of course, had to pay for the gasoline it used. Mowers were not self-propelled in the 1950’s (at least ‘mine’ wasn’t). Also, they broke down much more often, back then. It seems that I spent about one-half of my time taking it to Daddy’s shop to get it ‘fixed.’ I don’t believe I had to pay the repair bills.
You cranked B and S with a rope by winding it on a round thing (I told you I wasn’t good with parts) and pulling it as hard as you (I) could. Sometimes it cranked, sometimes it didn’t. B and S had a mind of its own!
Cranking was difficult. Also, ‘un-cranking’ could be challenging. You see, there was a metal strip about two inches long that ‘sorta fit over the spark plug, and the way you ‘uncranked’ B and S was to press the metal strip against the top of the spark plug. Trouble was, if you weren’t careful, you would accidentally touch the spark plug (which I did several times), and you’d get quite a jolt. It was one of the side benefits of the mowing business. I learned to ‘uncrank’ B and S by using a stick to press the metal strip against the spark plug. Also, I learned to often just leave it running because it was so hard to re-crank.
I’ve talked a little about the mechanics involved in my mowing business. Now, let me talk about the business side of the business. I had lots of customers during my tenure (three or four summers?), but let me mention three in particular.
There was ‘Miss’ Carolyn Smith, who would later be one of my great high-school teachers. She had St. Augustine grass which was the most difficult to cut (thick and deep). She would wait as long as possible before summoning me to the job. After all, she was paying me $5.00 to cut what must have been about one-half acre. Ditto, Judge A.M. Anderson (I actually most always dealt with Mrs. Anderson who was very nice) right across Swift Street from us. St. Augustine, very deep and thick, had to mow very slowly, the mower would often stall (re-crank B & S) and a $5.00 bill for my work.
I also cut my Gray grandparents’ yard (three doors up on Swift Street). I believe Granny Gray cut me a little slack (rest breaks, ice cream, etc.), and I don’t remember it being too hard. And, I cut ours on Swift. It was a small yard (probably mostly Johnson grass which you’d better not let get ahead of you). I don’t remember whether I got paid for cutting ours, but probably not. It may have just been part of “room and board.”
So, there you have it. That’s about the way it was except I might add that about the time my mower was paid for, it was “worn-out”, and I had to get another one, which was good for someone in the equipment business. Daddy was.
Today, I enjoy mowing. I think about how it used to be when I am riding on my big Kubota commercial zero turn whirling around trees and getting the job done. And, I think that, like almost always, Daddy was right. Mowing, and picking cotton and even working in parts taught me lots and has helped me through life. And, by the way, I often still get sick (runny nose, headache, etc.), when I mow, especially if there’s much dust. Hay-fever, you know.
THE INSPIRATION FOR THIS ARTICLE WAS THE BOOK, “DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB,” EDITED BY SONNY BREWER. THE BOOK IS WHAT 23 ACCLAIMED AUTHORS (RICK BRAGG, LARRY BROWN, PAT CONROY, ETC.) WROTE ABOUT THE WORK THEY WERE DOING WHEN THEY ‘TOOK UP’ WRITING FULL-TIME. GREAT BOOK! LARRY