In high school, to earn money, I primed tobacco and mowed neighborhood lawns.
I was an OK farmhand, slower than most but reliable; if you called, I came, mostly because I said I would but also because I wanted the money. My parents had this agreement with their sons, who grew up in the 1970s: If we made our own money, we could buy our own clothes; no mom and dad serving as arbiters of good taste.
I was better at mowing yards, in no small part because my handiwork was obvious to neighbors and passing motorists. I didn’t want to be known as the neighborhood kid who couldn’t even mow a lawn.
When my wife and I began shopping for our first house, in Smithfield, she wanted to make sure I was OK with yard work. I told her I enjoyed it.
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In hindsight, that wasn’t an accurate statement. I should have said I enjoyed how a yard looked when I was done mowing it. Even after all these years, I still take pride in my handiwork.
But I don’t much enjoy the actual act of mowing the grass. It’s usually hot and often dirty. Just as important, at age 55, I can think of many things I’d rather be doing than mowing the grass — reading a book or newspaper, for example, or watching a ball game or movie. It doesn’t help either that I no longer get paid for mowing the grass. Now my only motivation to mow the grass is to avoid a nasty letter from the homeowners’ association.
And yet there I was last Saturday at Lowe’s in Smithfield – along with a sizable number of my Johnston County neighbors. I was shopping for mower blades and engine oil in anticipation of another mowing season, which in Johnston County can last well into October; I mowed the day after Halloween.
My Johnston County neighbors at Lowe’s had similar shopping lists, snapping up everything from potting soil to weed trimmers.
Standing in the checkout line, I wondered whether all of those other folks at Lowe’s were looking forward to yard work as much I was; if they too had come to realize that the reality of maintaining a big yard didn’t quite measure up to the dream of owning a big yard.
I wondered too if they had other things they’d rather be doing or whether they actually enjoyed getting their hands dirty. (I didn’t mind getting my hands caked in tobacco gum so long was I getting paid.)
And then I thought about all of the money me and my Johnston County neighbors could save if we didn’t have yards to maintain. (Along that same line, I wished I had all of the money that Lowe’s was going to make last Saturday. I suspect I could have come close to retiring right away without a monetary worry in the world.)
But my visit to Lowe’s did reenforce my longtime plan to retire to a condo at the beach, where I will never buy mower blades much less mow a blade of grass. My homeowners’ dues will pay someone to do whatever yard work is required.
Of course my retirement plans assume that I don’t spend so much money on my yard in Four Oaks that I don’t have enough money for that condo at the beach. The jury is still out on that.