Made in America: A Real, Reel Lawnmower
Yesterday was Father's Day, so lawnmowers were on the minds of the folks over at Nightline last Friday, when they ran a little feature on the American Lawn Mower Company.
Yes, I know that it's ridiculous, by I continue to like the idea that there are useful, understandable, concrete objects that are still Made in America, and one of those things is the Reel Lawn Mower, made since 1985 in Shelbyville, Indiana.
In a age when there's no time for a leisurely lawn mowing outing, and in a time when sprawling suburban lawns practically cry out for a sit-down mower the size of the earth moving equipment designed to cut strip mines in the sides of mountains, the Reel Lawn Mower is the real deal: it's a hand mower.
In American Mower's own words:
They're light. They're maneuverable. They're better for the lawn. They're economical. They're environmentally responsible. They're quiet. They're practically maintenance-free. They've always been in style.
They naturally place a lot of emphasis on the power source, which in this day and age, is a critical one:
The power source behind our mowers hasn't changed much in 100 years. It's still readily available on demand.You can still fuel it for the price of a banana and a glass of milk. It always works when you want it to... It's people. The power behind our mowers in 1895, and the power behind them today.
Too bad I don't have any need for a lawn mower, or I'd go out and get myself a Reel one.
The first lawn mower I recall was actually the scythe that my father and Uncle Charlie (mostly my father; Charlie wasn't much of a one for work) used to cut the tough, reedy grass on the steep bank in front of my grandmother's house, where we all lived.
We also had a hand mower for the side yard, where there wasn't much grass, since much of the territory was taken up by Bridal Wreathe, a lilac bush, and a big shaggy fir tree. The back yard was so dark that nothing grew there other than moss.
After a while, we moved to our own house. It was only four houses down and one street over, but we had more lawn, front and back.
My father got two lawn mowers: a gas-powered mower for the back and a hand mower for the front. (I think it was a Toro.) When they got old enough, my brothers were "allowed" to use the power mower on the back yard, which was pretty big by city standards.
My father's pride and joy was the front lawn, which he babied and manicured. In bare feet, it was like walking on velvet.
While I walked on the lawn in bare feet, I never mowed it.
We had mostly gender-based chores in our household. One task that crossed the gender line was taking out the garbage and burning the trash which we did, until is was outlawed and everyone had to get an indoor incinerator, in a big trash barrel that rusted out every year or so and had to be replaced. I absolutely loved burning trash, especially in the winter. I would throw one of my father's old Navy blankets around me and stand there warming my hands, pretending I was a refugee - a World War II D.P. living in a cold, hard, camp, or a hobo during the Depression.
Taking out the garbage was another thing entirely. Smelly and rotten and, at least once a summer, no matter how carefully my mother wrapped those coffee grounds and egg shells in newspaper and tied it up with a string (which was what people did in The Time Before Hefty Bags), we got maggots. If you were the unlucky one to spot the maggots (and were dumb enough to report it), you got to clean out the garbage can and get rid of them, which was done with the hose nozzle on full power and a dose of Clorox.
The other all-in chore was raking leaves. I didn't much mind raking, other than in the spring when we had to rake out The Ravine. The Ravine was a little wooded hilly area next to our house and part of our property. First nice Saturday in April. Year in, year out. Ravine raking.
Now, my father had a phenomenal sense of humor about just about everything.
But not when it came to raking The Ravine.
So we kept our wise guy remarks to ourselves. But we did get quite good at out-of-earshot grousing about it. Who ever heard of raking the woods? Was he insane or what?
Now I'm guessing that my father wanted to create a fire-break between our house and the woods, which went on for quite a while.
A note on the odd neighborhood I grew up in. If you went out our front door and turned left, you were in the city: Densely packed houses. Lots of little shops and stores. Vic the Blind Barber's. (Not blind-blind, just severe myopia; he looked like Mr. Magoo. He trimmed girls' bangs choppily and gave boys big, over the ear white-wall hair cuts. My father refused to go to him, not wanting to risk the little hair he had. My mother made us kids go to Vic because she felt bad for him.)
The Paree Beauty Salon, which was kind of an oddity: a "real" hair salon in a neighborhood where women mostly got their hair done in little shops that other women set up in their basements. Morris Market, where we got our groceries because my mother-the-butcher's-daughter believed in small grocery stores and because they delivered. (PeaPod before its time.) Sol's Maincrest Pharmacy, where we swore that he'd glued the lucky gumballs to the side of the gumball dispenser. (If one of the yellow and red striped gumballs came out, you won a candy bar. Nobody ever did.) Teddy the Tailor and dry cleaner. The guy who fixed lamps and sold lightbulbs. The people who sold cemetery monuments from their front yard. Trimble Motors, which sold used cars from the thirties, forties, and early fifties, so ancient to our eyes (used to everyone getting a new car every two years) that they looked like flivvers.
Yes, out the door and to your left, it was city.
Turn right: the country. Woods that stretched for miles. Hendy's Pond, where we skated every afternoon in the winter. Grandma Grigas' farm, with her screeching hens and the cows she kept until the winter they froze standing in place, and the city had to send the DPW up with a bulldozer to knock them over and bury them.
Thus, we lived in the city, but we still had to woods to rake.
But we didn't have to mow the front lawn. That was strictly my father's territory.
Even through the long years of his illness, that front lawn always - in the man's own words - looked like a million bucks.
When my father died, the front lawn died, too. Not fully, but you couldn't expect a couple of teen-aged boys to care for it quite the way their father had. They had better things to do. The younger one wanted to play baseball and drink beer; the older one wanted to smoke dope and chase girls.
The lawn never felt like velvet again.
Ah, Father's Day.
If my father had lived, he'd be a very old man. If my father had lived, he'd be dead already. Probably. Although my grandmother lived to 97, and her sister Roseanne and brother Pat made it well into their 90's, too. So maybe...
If my father had lived. If he still had the house. If he wasn't too creaky to still mow the lawn, I'd have gotten him a Reel Mower for Father's Day.
I think he would have liked it a lot.