For His Eighteenth Birthday – 5/16/05

Monday Poem, A Year and a Day

For His Eighteenth Birthday – 5/16/05

The barrel is warmed by my hand’s reverent grip,
rounded edges looking improbably soft.
Its walnut stock, marred here and there,
each scratch a story I can never know.

This is my Grandfather’s gun.
A long ago present from a father to his son.

A harsh gift, some would say, viewed through the lens of today’s world.
Yet a tender and well reasoned one for so long ago.

The hours it has spent hanging over his young shoulder.
The woodland glades it has crossed, reflecting the autumn sun.
The ducks and pheasants that have fallen to it,
and the dinners and sandwiches they later became.

I am told it is a good gun. A collector’s piece, now.
I am told of its value, but I know its real worth and I am rich to have it.

This is not my gun.

I am but its steward.

It will be kept clean and dry,
oiled and shining,
just as he kept it.

This is my Grandfather’s gun,
and always shall be.

Slow and Steady Mows the Lawn

“Hey Dad, do you still have that old mower in the garage?”

The slightly guarded reply over the phone that followed was looking for more information. “Which mower do you mean?”

Action Girl and I had recently moved into our first house together after several years of apartment dwelling and suddenly I was confronted with the need to own things that I had not considered before. It was a simple and elderly house in an old neighborhood and came with its own foolishly small bit of grassy lawn. No mater how foolish it was though, it still needed mowing. Our two house cats could only chew it down so much. Give them credit. They would have done their best, but I wasn’t okay with cleaning that mess up later.

Growing up, we had a pretty good sized lawn. It wasn’t overly hilly or terribly large, but mowing it properly took an evening to do. It was just big enough that pushing the old, hand mower was a noisy pain in the neck. Your feet turned green with the sticky clippings and there’s just nothing quite like shoving a two stroke, blue exhaust belching engine in front of you for an hour and a half. As a small child, I was instructed to stay well away from it when it ran and like most small children when warned about an astonishingly loud, appendage eating machine, I took the direction to the extreme and mostly viewed it from the safety of the house.

This wasn’t my Dad’s first mower, however, but rather his first gas mower. As a young man at his first, real, career-style job, an older and more experienced coworker had gotten to know my father and saw an opportunity to offload some of his excess garden shed treasures on the “new kid.” When you’re new to homeownership and you are just trying to get up and running, free stuff is hard to turn down. Those of us who have reached that point in our lives where we have to make paths through the basement and garage just to reach the back wall, can sniff these young-uns out a mile away and offload on them mercilessly. An offer of some free necessity and a warm smile is cheaper than a trip to the dump, with the added benefit that they can often be convinced to even come and take it away themselves. If however, the item could possibly be turned down when seen in the flesh, it’s best to go with “the drop off.” It’s harder to refuse something once the offerer has gone through the trouble of bringing it to you. At least, that’s what he’s hoping for.

Such was the method of transfer of ownership that my father found himself in when the “lawn mower” that he was offered turned out to be a thirty pound, cast iron, rotary mower. A forced smile and, “thank you” from Dad, and into our garage it went. He immediately went out and got the gas powered finger chopper that I hid from, and there it stayed for as long as I can remember.

As time went along, Dad managed to get his hands on a riding mower and when I was old enough, I would pilot it around in ever tightening circles, pummeling the grass into submission as Dad did the small areas with the push mower he had bought all those years before. The antique rotary mower was left to gather dust and other than the few times I remember taking it out to oil and push a few feet, then hanging it back up, it never saw the light of day.

Now it was my turn to need new things necessary to the maintenance a house. I had been borrowing an electric mower from a nearby friend since we had moved in, but if you have never experienced the thrill of running over your own power cord, then you my friend, just haven’t lived. They are horrible little machines and after the second extension cord wound up in the trash, I decided that I needed something else.

Getting a gas mower for the five hundred square feet of lawn I had seemed worse than foolish. That type of blunt headed consumption, frankly drives me more than a little batty. I needed something else. Then I remembered the rotary mower.

“That mower? The one hanging up in the garage?” My dear father, sensing a chance to reverse the roll he played all those years ago when he came into ownership of the cast iron wall hanger, pounced.

“SURE! You can have THAT one! Tell you what, I’ll even go and get it sharpened for you before I bring it up.” He was going for full effect on the drop off. Once he had it cleaned up and ready for pushing, there was no way I could turn it down. With a light heart, Dad took down the old rotary mower and, leaving a large, oil stained outline on the garage wall, took it to the local shop for sharpening.

“Woah! Where’d you get this one?”

The guys at the shop all came over to inspect the machine as Dad wheeled it into the showroom. After a brief retelling, one of the workers looked down at it with respect. “Your son’s a lucky guy. They didn’t’ make them like this when the made them like this. This thing is the Cadillac of the rotary mowers. They do a way better job of mowing. The grass will look great after a pass with this one.”

My Dad related all this to me when he dropped it off and much to our amazement, we found that when sharpened and freshly oiled, not only does it purr like a kitten, but it cuts the grass beautifully, evenly and quietly.

mower

There are a few things that can get in the way when using it. First of all, it weights a ton and you never forget that for a moment when you propel it across the lawn. Secondly, if you put off cutting the grass too many weekends, you are in for a lot of sweating later. Unlike its motorized brethren, rather than smashing the grass down with a whirling piece of metal, this snips at it like scissors, and just like scissors, you can only snip so much in one bite. It can be like trying to cut a phonebook in half with pinking sheers. Long grass means multiple passes.

I have a larger lawn now and though I suppose I could justify a gas mower, I still happily use this one. I never have to fill it up, it starts ever time and most of all, I love the sound. My new neighbor keeps offering me the use of his electric mower whenever he sees me with it out, but I just thank him and say that it’s my version of going to the gym. The fact of the matter is, I love it. I can hear the birds over the whirring blades and I smell like fresh grass rather than exhaust and burned oil when I finish. The old mower was built in 1918, and I always get at least one passer by who stops to marvel at it as they walk by. I have to admit, I’m proud of the thing.

The best outcome of all this was my father’s own revelation. He’s always hated mowing the grass and the ride-on and the push mower always seem to need something. Top that off with his dust allergy and high opinion of rigorous physical activity and he started to view cutting the grass in a different light. Shortly after I started using mine, he went out and bought one of his own. It’s new and lighter and easier to push, but the effect is much the same. Now his neighbors stop and comment about pushing such an old fashioned mower around the yard. Entertainingly enough, one of them has decided that it was a good enough idea to warrant him going out and getting his own as well. We just might have a minor revolution on your hands here!

I doubt that my son and daughter will enjoy pushing my ancient, iron monstrosity across the lawn when the job becomes theirs, but I won’t be getting rid of it any time soon. If they want a gas mower, they can get one. In the mean time, I’ll oil this one up and push it out across the grass. It’s been doing just that for about a hundred years now.

Why stop now, just when I’ve gotten it broken in?

mower2

You Can’t Get That From Here.

Some time ago, Action Girl and I were headed off on one of our trips, backpacking through various European towns. One of the issues that always proved problematic were the cats. We had two at the time and obviously, could not leave them unattended for two weeks while we gallivanted off on adventures. Try as I might, neither one of the kitties seemed to be able to get the knack of using the can opener. I blame this on the lack of opposable thumbs and having brains the size of a walnut. This meant that we needed a house sitter. Well, cat sitter, actually. Considering the neighborhood we lived in, having the house occupied would also give us a better shot at coming home to a house full of all of our stuff, rather than an empty shell. Our house was nice, where it was located was… well, lets just say that you didn’t get bored keeping track of your belongings.

Out house/cat sitter was a good friend and was happy to do it for free. All she wanted was something cool from Europe. That sounded easy. Off we went on our adventure and we had a great time as you’d expect, but one problem persisted. Finding something to get our house sitter that she couldn’t get in the States was getting impossible. Everything we seemed to find that looked promising to one of us, the other would inevitable remark that, yes they had seen that back home. It was getting really infuriating. It seemed that the world had finally shrunk to the point that there were no longer any real cultural oddities that you could bring back from Europe to the States that would “wow” the folks back home.

The only thing that we could finally come up with that you couldn’t get back home, was the Smart Car. If you haven’t seen one of these, then you are really in for a treat. “Cute” doesn’t come close to describing it. They are itty bitty, two seater cars (yes, I know that they make a four seater now) that you see fairly often over much of Europe now. They are made by Daimler AG so you know that they are both well made and crammed full of a gazillion little parts that would take a watchmaker to replace. The interesting part is that not only are they tiny, sporty and make you smile almost immediately when you spot one, but they are also quite safe. I actually had a friend in England who owned one. At one point he managed to get into a high speed accident going down the highway. He bounced off the guard rail doing about eighty MPH, zinged across traffic and off the road, into the trees. The Smart Car was toast. He had a broken wrist and ankle. Not bad for a car you practically strap on.

So, though we needed to repay our house sitter, a car was a bit out of our price range, even if it did have a fair chance of fitting in the overhead compartment for the flight home. On the last day of our journey, I spotted the perfect thing. While we waited at the train station for our ride to the airport, sitting in a gift shop window I spotted our “thank you” gift. Kinder Eggs. Lots and lots or Kinder Eggs. These were perfect. Kinder Eggs are the size of a regular hens egg and wrapped in foil like a Cadbury Creme Egg. They are Chocolate, like a Cadbury Creme Egg. The chocolate is hollow, again like the Creme Egg. There are two major differences. The interior of the Kinder Egg is lined with white chocolate. “Big deal”, I hear you say. Ahhh, but, the real fun is the yellow capsule inside. In that capsule is a toy, usually needing assembly. They are often perplexing, sometimes really fun but always random. They do offer “themes” that go with promoting various movies or TV shows, but for the most part, it’s a crap shoot. You just don’t know what you’ll get, AND you couldn’t get them in the U.S.

There’s a FDA rule that you can not stick an inedible object into a food stuff. You can kind of think of it as the “crunchy frog” clause. The capsule is far to big to be eaten by accident but it seems that the FDA felt that American kids were just far too stupid to notice the avocado pit sized, yellow, plastic thingie in the center of the egg. You couldn’t import them for sale back home!

So, one dozen Kinder Eggs in hand, we happily headed back to all out belongings and a happy house sitter. The cat’s had steadfastly refused to use the can opener. Good for them, she had been there!

A month or so ago, I went into a local fancypants food import store and there on the counter next to the Ritter Bars and the Nutella was a display of Kinder Eggs. I quietly called the manager over and mentioned that I believed that these were not legal to sell in the U.S. To my surprise, she told me that Kinder Egg had managed, after many years of lobbying, to get a special dispensation. They could sell them in America at long last. I was both relieved and a little sad. It was the one of the last things that was uniquely foreign. Some weeks later, as I drove to work I spotted this…

Yes, it’s a Smart Car. You can get them here now as well. This one in particular has been modified for the Lindt Chocolate Company. The bunny ears are not for sale with the standard model. It did strike my fancy though. Some how the idea of both the Kinder Egg and the Smart Car done up as a chocolate bunny goes hand in hand. I wonder if it runs on plastic Easter grass?

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