You have to understand I didn’t come from a place where people had lawns.
Courtyards maybe, even patios where a person could grow tomatoes during the summer months, but swaths of green lawns, not really. Of course, my Aunt Clara from Port Chester, New York, had a lawn with two large azalea bushes and roses that were arranged in a horseshoe. While I admired her lawn, I was spared any knowledge of its maintenance.
For many years, lawns didn’t enter my consciousness. The people I knew who had lawns, more like parking strips, were mostly interested in planting perennials and allowing them to fight it out with the weeds.
Not until I moved south did I discover real lawns. The first week following my move to Sterlington in northeastern Louisiana, I woke up to hear a grating noise. What could that be? I’d left police sirens and ambulances far behind in the city, a sound I secretly was beginning to miss. I stepped outside to see a man sitting in a four-wheel vehicle zipping up and down his front yard. He steered past his mailbox and crew-cut the grass like an army sergeant. His vehicle was similar to the one I remembered from the movie, Forrest Gump, except this man did not have the same congenial attitude.
I came to learn that depending upon horsepower, four-wheel (or not) steering, blades, and cushy seating, lawn tractors can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000, which might have accounted for the man’s dour look. Now I knew that my Uncle Jack in Port Chester cut his grass with a push lawn-mower, a distant cousin to these behemoths. Why would anyone want to spend so much money? My neighbors often seemed like retirees riding around in golf carts. But then the lawns in this neighborhood were enormous, rolling past southern oaks and growing on either side of driveways. While the sound of city sirens came and went, lawn tractors could easily drone on for hours like a worrisome mosquito buzzing in my ear.
Lawns were work. Not only did people have to cut them, but just like in Ecclesiastes, there was a time to scatter seeds, a time to fertilize, and a time to spray for bugs. It seemed endless, a weekend ritual of cutting grass, grass that always grew back. It was like Sisyphus rolling a rock up a hill, and then it rolling back down again. Wby?
I didn’t begin to appreciate lawns until the second summer that I lived in the south. I’m not sure what changed. I think the sound of the lawn tractors began to fade into the background. The noise wasn’t quite as irksome, and in the summer months I began to see green scarves wrapped around houses and offering a sanctuary for crepe myrtles, red bud trees, and day lilies. I found that people riding their lawn tractors liked to wave whenever I walked by. I found turtles making their way across the lawn to lay eggs, a trembling prairie of marsh grass in the runoff behind the house. I waved back.