Friday, June 17, 2016
Escaping LA, my folks moved us to a five-and-a-half acre spread on a creek near Chico. The back four acres were planted in almonds; the front was a fruit orchard that would soon succumb to too much water when Dad decided to put in a lawn. The lawn Dad envisioned turned out to be an acre-and-a-half predominately made up of weeds.
As the task of tending of the grass-weed parcel grew to an enormous reality, Dad purchased a heavy-duty lawn mower from a power tool shop around the corner on Nord Avenue. A Jacobsen by brand name, it was unlike any mower any kid in the neighborhood had ever seen before. The thing looked like a weird mechanical grasshopper with big, big bicycle wheels on the back, a smoke belching two-stroke engine set between the wheels and a nasty, spinning blade propelled by a V-belt under a cowling that stretched about three feet in front of the motor. A long, black, custom-bent steel pipe shaped like a squared off U formed a handle. It was about eye level for me.
By the time the peach and plum trees finally gave up, brother Bill was about ten and I was eight. Both of us needed spending cash so Dad arranged that if Bill would mow the acre-plus to the left of the gravel driveway, he could earn about a two bucks a week. I was in charge of the smaller parcel on the right for seventy-five cents.
Wow! I thought. Almost a whole dollar for an hour’s worth of pushing the grasshopper-mower around the yard?
In my mind’s eye I could see all the neighborhood boys perched on our rail fence watching me with envy as I operated the thing. On top of that, there was this: A little mom and pop called Neal’s Market was located about a block off my route home from Rosedale Elementary. The Neals sold homemade tacos for a quarter from a counter toward the back of the store. I figured with that kind of money, I could get me a taco almost every day of the week on my walk home from school.
“It’s a deal, Dad!”
For I don’t know how many years, brother Bill and I dutifully tended the grass and weeds in front of the house until Bill found other interests and my mathematical prowess informed me that two-and-a-quarter for three hours mowing an acre-and-a-half of grass didn’t pencil out no matter how many tacos it would buy me down at Neal’s Market.
Dad would be on his own.
Soon, a bright red Toro riding mower arrived, and while we were once again eager to contribute to the lawn’s upkeep, Dad was loath to let us mount up and race around the yard and pull wheelies on it. At some point after the appearance of the Toro, the Jacobsen disappeared. I thought it might have been sold back to the mower shop around the corner, but brother Bill insists Dad just gave it away to someone who had weeds to knock down somewhere else in town.
Chico is a small northern California city that, once many folks move to it, they don’t move away. It is a beautiful example of small-town America. In the mid-50s, there was a state college and a nice main street with train tracks down the middle. The creek we grew up on coursed through town splitting the streets to the south from the avenues to the north. The watercourse offered a pleasant, musical burble while its pools proved to be a cooling place to swim on sweltering summer afternoons. With the passage of time, those who moved in but not out of Chico have brought growth, but not much has really changed. The college is now a university and the tracks down Main Street are gone. Some shopping has moved from downtown, but the creek still provides a soothing soundtrack on quiet evenings.
Our five-and-a-half acres was sold and subdivided decades ago and career moved me away. But brother Bill stayed near town, purchasing a parcel not dissimilar from the one we grew up on. Lots of ground. Lots of weeds.
I visited the other day and something caught my eye.
Seems brother Bill was right. Dad did pass the Jacobsen to someone who, like Dad, ultimately gave up on having acreage with weeds to conquer. When the person decided to downsize, by one of those small town quirks of fate, Bill found himself helping with the process. His compensation?
“I’ll take that old mower, if you don’t have a use for it.”
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