The tiny Nova Scotia community of West Head should have “Rock” in its name. The spit of land is made of millions of rocks, from the tiniest pebbles to boulders, covered by a thin layer of acidic soil here and there. Like icebergs, rocks that peek through the surface could be be as big as a house.
For almost 200 years, sheep roamed West Head, keeping much of the grass under control. Families burned their fields in spring and left them until the next year. Those without sheep and who did not want to burn, got my Dad and brother, Edsel, to cut their pastures with a well-used scythe from a previous generation and Dad kept the hay for his sheep.
And then one day everything changed. An obnoxious sound filled the air. The noisy, pollution-spewing lawnmower replaced the rhythmic, gentle swish of the scythe.
An uncle gave us his old lawnmower. Dad was too busy fishing and farming to cut the grass and somehow the job fell to me. Dad may have bribed me with $1.00, enough money for chips, a chocolate bar and a pop.
The most difficult part was starting the relic with a ripcord. I wrapped the cord around and around and then yanked it as hard as I could, praying it would start on the first pull. Holy cow! At summer’s end, I had impressive muscles in my right arm!
But who was going to cut the grass when I went off to college? Dad? I’m joking, right? Dad bought a new lawnmower, but he had a thousand reasons why he was too busy do it, so Mom took over the job.
“Now, Sarah,” Dad warned, “watch out for them rocks.”
Mom declared, “You just leave me alone. Why would I run over rocks?”
Regularly, we heard the undeniable sound of the lawnmower blade making contact with a rock.
The situation grew tense from time to time. There is one lawnmower incident we will never forget. Mom was mowing while Dad sat outside mending nets that had been torn extensively by a humpback whale Dad named “Three-Toe.” Why “Three-Toe?” The whale had a cut in its tail fluke which created the third “toe.”
Mom was coming closer and closer and Dad was getting a little hot under the collar and shouted, “Sarah, stay away from this starvegutted net. I’ve been workin’ on it for a week.”
“I’m not gonna run over your precious net with the lawnmower,” Mom shot back.
Mom viewed it as a challenge to prove to Dad she could get within a fraction of an inch of the net. In the heat of the exchange, I heard the lawnmower grind to a halt as the net wrapped itself around the blade. I knew better than to hang around to see what happened. I do not recall the outcome, but the net may have gone straight to the burn barrel or the dump.
Mom also had a history with rusty anchors hidden in the grass. Every now and then Dad would say sarcastically, “Sarah, I see you’re gittin’ the old anchors all shined up.”
Mom could get a little sassy and always had to have the last word and spouted, “Never you mind. I bet Joyce doesn’t have to put up with anchors when she mows.”
On one occasion, Dad and Edsel were setting nets near Gull Rock — the local lighthouse. Out of the blue Dad looked at Edsel and said, “Oh, no.” Of course, Edsel wanted to know why he said that. Dad filled him in, “I just bought a brand new lawnmower and I forgot to mark the gas can that has the gas and oil mixed. If your Mother uses straight gas, the lawnmower, she’ll ruin it. My only hope is that Eleda calls your Mother and they’ get on a big yarn. That way, we might be able to get home before she starts to mow.”
When they pulled in the driveway, Mom was mowing. Dad asked how long had she been mowing and found out she had just started. Phew! He was able to mix the oil and gas with no harm done to the mower. Talking on the phone saved the day!
For reasons we do not understand, Mom turned into a wild woman with a lawnmower. She engaged in dangerous lawnmower practices. Dad would caution her, but it was like waving a red cloth at a bull. Mom had to prove him wrong.
For example, she would pull gobs of damp grass out of the chute WHILE THE LAWNMOWER WAS RUNNING. It’s a miracle she did not lose fingers or a hand.
As well, she frequently walked backwards pulling the lawnmower leaving her unaware of rocks and other obstacles in her path. This bad habit caught up with her.
There was a spot where water from the cellar drained. Over time, the water caused a miniature “sink hole.” Mom was multi-tasking — cutting grass, walking backwards, and yelling to someone standing in the door. Everything was fine until she encountered the cellar drain. Mom fell backwards, head-over-heels, and the lawnmower flew in a different direction, thank the Lord. Someone up above was watching over her. It was, however, a considerable blow to her pride.
The lawnmower and the blade were replaced numerous times. There were days she called our neighbour, “Burnley, I hit a rock and the lawnmower is making a terrible sound. Can you come up and fix it before Gene gets home from fishin’?”
Burnley always obliged.
Mom cut the grass until the day she died.
My brothers and I had good reason to be skeptical that Dad would take over. Nope. Instead he turned into Red Green and his crew of rednecks at Possum Lodge to simplify cutting grass. Dad spent months trying to invent a way to pull the push mower behind his four-wheeler. Despite the admirable effort, the project failed.
Dad moved on to greener pastures, literally. He fenced off the area nearest the house and brought in the troops, I mean sheep, to look after it. Red Green may have approved, but the downside was sheep poop everywhere.
Ultimately, Dad surrendered and hired his friend, Arthur, to cut it weekly. Arthur did not cut it exactly the way Mom insisted, but at least he kept the grass from growing three-feet tall.
I do not know if grass grows in Heaven, but if there is, I believe Mom pushed the Apostles out of her way and declared herself Chief Mower. It’s an absolute breeze to cut grass where there are no fences, wood piles, rocks, fishing nets, no anchors or cellar drains.
Miss you, Mom and Dad.