Mowing Your Way Through Life

Our Backyard In Davie County, North Carolina, March 2022

How did people manage in the first half of the twentieth century before there were yards to connect them to the soil around their homes? I suspect that they were working in their gardens and fields. By the time I was growing up in the fifties in Lewisville, North Carolina, yards had become important. The condition of our grassy yard often stood between me and a trip to my uncle Henry’s fishing ponds. My mother who claimed the only yard she had as a child was packed dirt swept with broom straw wanted our yard neatly clipped. In driving by our old home, I am little disappointed the town did not put in sidewalks in front of our house during my youth. It would have eliminated the slope on the front yard. It was by far the hardest part of the yard to mow as a youngster.

Going away to military school (high school) and then college got me out of mowing yards for almost a decade. My first home after graduation was a two-hundred year old farm house located in a sheep pasture on the Fundy coast of Nova Scotia. No sheep came with the old farm house but long grass did not bother me as a young farmstead owner. When I first moved there in the summer of 1971, the yard was the least of my worries. Getting hot water plumbed in and running so we could stop taking showers at the local campground was close to the top of the list. The second summer I had a tractor with a nine-foot-wide bush hog which I used to mow around the house a couple of times a summer. That was all it needed in my days of being single. After all, I mowed plenty of mature grass or hay, starting with the twenty acre field behind the house which served as one of the few backyards in my life away from home.

Then came the summer of 1973, and I married Glenda, the love of my life from the world of well-manicure yards in North Carolina. Her mother often mowed their yard twice, the second time against the grain, just to catch any grass that might pop up after the first mowing. Sometime during the summer of 1974, Glenda and my neat-lawn-loving mother who was visiting us formed a conspiracy. They drove down the mountain to Bridgetown ten miles away and came home with a Toro push mower. I spent much of the next forty-forty years sharing the task of mowing whatever yard happened to be attached to our personal home.

For the ten years or so when we lived on our farm in Tay Creek, we had a nice riding lawn mower which was adequate for much of the yard. Even Glenda did some mowing. When we lived in Halifax, our yard was postage-stamp sized. By the time we arrived on the mountain in Roanoke, Virginia, I had come to somewhat enjoy mowing. There are those times in your life when something as simple as mowing a yard can be very satisfying because you can actually see what you have done.

One of the immutable laws of mowing is that the farther south you live, the more miserable the task of mowing can be. Sometimes, even the most careful home yard person can end mowing in the oppressive heat of the day like I did more times than I want to admit after we moved to the North Carolina coast. As I wrote then, there is a true brotherhood of Southerners (both men, women, and teenagers) who have mowed yards when they never should have.

Mowing is one of those circular things in life. In your early years, you are too young to push a mower, so it seems fitting that in the later years of life, it is also okay to be too old to push a mower. You come to a point when you are faced with either hiring someone to mow the yard or buying a riding mower. Since I spent many years straddling a John Deere farm tractor, we chose not to revisit those days after a back problem slowed me somewhat. For a couple of years, I shared the task with our mower of choice, choosing the spots that required a push mower for myself. However, it was an easy transition to giving it all up. When we made our 2021 move from the land of coastal centipede grass back to the fescue grasses of the Piedmont, we left our third Toro mower with the father and son team that was doing our mowing. I even gave them my gas-powered trimmer.

When our current mowing team shows up, I know the noise will be over with in a few minutes as opposed to the hours that it would have taken me with a push mower. I still enjoy our green space especially the backyard which is the nicest we have had since that twenty-acre field that came with our first home. 

The Shade Trees Are Still There, We Aren’t

Shade Tree, Mount Airy, NC

I remember well the Sunday afternoons under the shade trees enjoying watermelon or homemade peach ice cream. As children, we played like there was no tomorrow.  It was a simpler time when people could actually talk politics without getting angry.  There was nothing like an old fashioned chicken stew to bring families together in North Carolina’s rolling hills. 

There were no chicken stews that I got to attend during my college years. Those were the especially turbulent late sixties and early seventies and I was far away from North Carolina in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  As I finished my degree in the summer of 1971, I needed to get away from those strange-hued city-night skies where it was impossible to see the stars.

Just as people used to gather under shade trees in North Carolina, friends used to just drop by on Sunday afternoons at our farm for visit. It was a great excuse to stop working and spend some time catching up on the neighborhood news. It was the way people built relationships, established trust and found common ground.  I cannot ever remember discussing politics.

Beyond the impromptu visits, there were community picnics, shared meals, church services (even burials) and work done for the good of the community. All these things made for richer shared lives. When we were on the farm, I never doubted that the community and friends helped us be successful. The support of their communities was essential to success of farming when we had our farm.

That was back in the seventies. The fifty years since then have not been kind to under the shade tree gatherings or any of the other ways that we connected and established relationships.

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The Mill Pond

Mill Stone from Walter Styers Grist Mill

My mother spent her childhood up to her teenage years on a mill pond. In my mind’s eye I can see the mill pond, the mill and the house. I have certainly heard enough stories.  My mother grew up there.  As a very young child she got lost in the woods one night. She had tagged a long with her older brothers to play at the other end of the pond.  Like older brothers will do, they got frustrated with their sister hanging around and told her to go home.  She got lost on the way back. She was found by a black man who helped at the mill. She was found only after spending a long cold night in the woods with only one of the family’s dogs as company. Walter Styers, her father, was getting ready to drain the pond and start looking for her body just before she was found. (Read more)

Finally a Backyard

Our Backyard in the North Carolina Foothills

It seems since my childhood that I have spent much of my life searching for a backyard. I have had hayfields and marshes as backyard but until this last move none were close to the one where I played ball with friends when I was in elementary school. I could plow up part of it for a huge garden but I have been there and enjoyed that when I was a lot younger. Read more.

Our Pandemic Move – Life Lessons – Part 1

Early spring blooms in our neighborhood near Mocksville, North Carolina

Moving is never easy, but moving during a pandemic is a real challenge. However, we did and learned a lot – even some minor things like it makes sense to take paper towels and paper plates with you when you are huddled in the safe zone of your hotel room. Most of all, this move reaffirmed the value of working with a great real estate agent. While technology made the move possible. Our great realtors actually made it happen. Read more at this link.