By Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz –
After a long summer of bashing against rocks, half buried stumps, and knee-deep grass the Ozarks finally killed our lawnmower. We worked that machine pretty hard and despite regular maintenance, managed to break just about every part there was to break.
At various times during the summer Dean and our neighbor Lindsey repaired or replaced several key parts, including the spindle (my bad), a bearing, the pull cord and the springy-coil thing on the top that makes the pull cord pull. They also had to replace almost all the bolts and other whatnots that had shaken loose and fallen off. All of this for a machine that was less than two years old. And now it just looks like it was built from scraps – complete with baling wire, zip ties, and duct tape. But how could we have known where such an infuriating contraption would lead us.
Seeing as how summer wasn’t yet over and knowing that the grass wasn’t just going to stop growing all of a sudden, we needed a new lawnmower and fast! I rallied for a brand new lawnmower. I even mentioned a riding mower for our three acre front yard, but as we talked about it, Dean convinced me that what we needed was a used mower. His thinking went thusly: A used lawnmower would be better than yet another new lawnmower because although the “lawn” had improved dramatically in the last couple of years there were still enough rocks in there to chew up brand-new lawnmowers for years to come. What we needed, he said, was an old heavy-duty mower that could take a serious punishing without costing us an arm and a leg every other year. As I looked at the wreckage of the latest mower, I had to agree.
And lo’ and behold it that day’s local we paper we found it! A small two-line classified ad for $25 used lawnmowers. One quick phone call later and we were strapped in the car and headed over to have a look.
The road to the lawnmower-guy’s house was long, winding, and very dusty on that hot summer day. But soon enough we arrived at a 50’s-style clapboard-sided bungalow so typical of the Ozarks. The yard was filled with an assortment of colorful items including a pink flamingo, several whirligigs, a bobbing metal bird, a couple of wheelbarrows full of flowers and a squirrel statue. There were also a couple old clamshell yard chairs, a rusty beer sign, miscellaneous crumbling statues and lots and lots of potted plants. But at the end of the driveway, as if to tease us in closer, were four or five old lawnmowers lined up in front of a detached garage surrounded by an overtly large planting of okra.
Within a minute or two an older, very cheerful gentleman of around 80 years of age came out of the house and said “Hallo!” and we shook hands all around. When doing business in the Ozarks introductory small talk is not optional, so we stood in the yard for ten or fifteen minutes chatting about the weather and the gentleman’s impressive okra patch before being given a quick tour of his workshop. Eventually the conversation eased towards the lawnmowers.
The lawnmowers lined up in front of the shop – four push-mowers and a rider –had been brought out especially for us. As we looked them over, he started each one in turn, giving it a run around the lawn to show us how well they worked. After explaining what we needed the mower for, he suggested the cheapest one in the bunch, stating that not only was it the best running mower he had, but the toughest. Oddly enough, it was just the mower that Dean and I thought most probable, so we paid the man and loaded the mower in the car.
But as we began to say our goodbyes, the gentleman said, “I can’t just let yu’ns run off like that. Come on in for some fresh-made iced tea and say hello to the missus.” Thinking he was just being polite we begged off, but he insisted saying “My wife makes the best iced tea in Missouri and she’d be disappointed if yu’ns didn’t come in for a glass.” Well, who could argue with that?
Inside we sat in floral-covered arm chairs in what looked to be the old porch that had been closed in and drank what truly was the best homemade iced tea I’d had in years. And as we made small talk, Dean took notice of what seemed to be an inordinately large amount of musical equipment in the room. “Oh,” the gentleman said, “we like to make a little music ever’ now and agin’. Been doin’ it for near about our whole lives.”
It did indeed look as if they had been doing it their entire lives because the room was filled to bursting with instruments, well-used amps and microphones; there was even an old reel-to-reel recording machine in one corner still loaded with long black tape. The back wall of the room was taken up by a trusty upright piano with the lid open and dog-eared sheets of music on the stand and along both of the side walls stood a number of electric and acoustic guitars, a small drum set, an electric organ, and various percussion instruments.
The lady of the house asked if we played, and though we both goofed around a little here and there we were a little reluctant to say so and politely declined. But before we knew it they were both taking positions at their preferred instruments – she on the piano and he on an old electrified acoustic guitar. And as the gentleman pulled the guitar strap over his head he asked, “How ‘bout we play a little somthin’ fer yu’ns?”
Thrilled by this turn of events, we of course said, “Please, do!” and they did. They played several songs in a row and sang into their microphones while we kept time with our hands and feet – applauding after each tune. The last song they played was, You Are My Sunshine, and as they began to mark time the woman called out “C’mon now, y’all know the words!” So we sang along with wide grins on our faces and laughter in our eyes as we stumbled through the words of the third and fourth verses.
As we drove back down that long, dusty road Dean and I were grinning ear to ear and wondering if that had just really happened. It made me think: It just goes to show that sometimes life isn’t what you expect it to be. You head out to buy an old lawnmower and wind up sipping iced tea and singing You Are My Sunshine with complete strangers. But moreover, I was struck with how our combined voices filled that room with something much more powerful than words or sound – it was filled with earnest kindness, a lightness of joy, and a palatable sense of sharing and generosity. A day well-worth remembering.
And by the way, that old lawnmower – it lasted near about forever.
A classic from the Show Me Oz archives!
© 2011 Jill Henderson Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.
Filled to the brim with colorful stories, wild walks, botanical musings, and a just a pinch of “hillbilly” humor A personal and inspiring tale of homesteading in the Ozark backwoods by noted author, naturalist and plant organic gardener, Jill Henderson.
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.