I grew up in Stratford, a tiny town in Gippsland, Victoria, where there are ten cows for every human being. Stratford is known primarily for being just ten miles away from Sale, and Sale is known primarily for its maximum-security prison, so that was my youth: trudging ten miles to school every morning while watching carefully in case murderers were lurking behind cows, waiting to leap out and grab me.
I mention this because I was recently reminded of my lawnmower experience. In fact, every time I see my mother or stepfather, I get reminded of my lawnmower experience, because somehow a couple of tiny incidents in my teenage years have bloomed into legend. I am most unfairly portrayed in this legend, so I’m setting the record straight here, where members of my family are unable to respond.
Despite owning more acres of grass than Bob Marley, we didn’t have a ride-on mower. We had a push mower, one so ancient and temperamental that it wouldn’t start with less than ten minutes of gentle caresses and ego-stroking. Or, when that failed, judicious application of a hammer. I frequently complained about this, but my parents just thought I was whining. Which, clearly, I was. But with excellent reason.
One time when I was about 16, I just could not start the thing. I’d tried whispering sweet nothings, touching its most intimate places, the hammer—all the seduction techniques popular in Gippsland—but couldn’t get a response. Finally, exhausted, I went inside to declare the impossibility of completing my assigned lawn-mowing duties. But rather than being sympathetically consoled as you might expect, my mother responded: “I don’t care! I don’t want to hear about it, Max, just mow the lawn!”
Already, I’m sure you’ll agree, there was enough unfairness here to keep a regular teenager moping for days. But being a dutiful son, I pondered upon my dilemma until I came up with an ingenious solution: I got out a pair of hedge clippers and began to slowly move across the vast expanse of our lawn, cutting approximately three blades of grass per snip. My mother saw this out the window, but—inexplicably—rather than marveling at what a plucky, dedicated lad she was raising, she interpreted the scene as some kind of surly teenage rebellion and yelled at me to go borrow the neighbor’s mower, if I couldn’t get ours started.
I was a little hurt at having my clever hedge-clipper idea rejected, but, being always happy to help, was willing to give this mower-borrowing idea a run. And run I did, because by now it was almost dark. I had to race over the neighbors—if I remember right, this was several miles away, around several cows and an escaped serial murderer—then race back and sprint around our lawn with the mower while the darkness closed in.
By now you, like me, no doubt have tears in your eyes at my incredible courage and determination. But somehow my family don’t see it that way: oh no, to them, me running around in the dark with the neighbor’s mower is a classic example of how I would do anything to get out of mowing lawns.
I guess what they say is true: you never understand your family. But I know this: as soon as I moved away to college, they bought a ride-on mower.