My mother loved to mow the grass. I have vivid memories of her straw hat, her goofiest grin, and the motor cutting out just in time to hear her say, “Get me a water, would you?” I’d climb the cabinets (because I knew she couldn’t see); grab the tallest plastic cup from the highest shelf- everything was too tall for me. So I’d stretch, pull, lean-over, and almost knock everything in my path over, I’d hurry. The ice would hit the sides of the muggy plastic cup in clunks; it’s a hollow noise, the pleasing nature of a child. My childhood was smooth for a moment, like the slide of the faucet, as the water glides inside the cup, cascading over the ice cubes. Cool to the touch of my hands, the quickly extinguishing condensation ran out far before my eager to please feet delivered that cup. As if a promise to the land she pruned, she’d look at me with such gratitude. I’d unknowingly carry this deep inside.
No sooner she’d flag me down again. Out of the pool, I’d jump. With grass stuck on my feet, my swim suit damp, I’d run to the hose and fill her cup. If filling her cup ever bothered me, I don’t remember it.
I’ll fight until my dying breath mowing a lawn; damn if I’ll let anyone tell me I have to!
Also, I don’t particularly remember wanting to mow the grass. It never seemed that fun to me (still doesn’t). A childhood truth that has become more of a funny anecdote than anything else, I’ve never mowed the grass. I’ve both rented and owned a house with a lawn, and still, I’ve never actually operated a lawn mower. Turns out I didn’t learn everything as a child equipping me for adulthood, but I did learn everything as a child enthusing the adult I want to be. I’ll fight until my dying breath mowing a lawn; damn if I’ll let anyone tell me I have to! That I’ve gotten toward the end of my twenties without standing behind that motor monster, giving the vibrant green of the bluegrass a trim is a continual laugh to people. It’s also maybe making a point that it’s not something I really ever need to do. That was… until over the course of a week, several women told me how cutting grass is empowering to women. Interesting as that is, I doubt it will sway me.
The woman who raised me wouldn’t have called herself a feminist; in fact, I doubt she would have questioned how to be strong. She just was. No, I don’t think it was a feminist statement on her part; this wasn’t about the roles of women or what ladies should or should not do. Yes, she was a woman of a generation that gathered and took care of the home. She was the genuine article at the grooming of my childhood home. Did she cut the grass because she was empowered or because she was part of a system that was okay with women doing the “manly” chores so that he could succeed in his profession? Was she a homemaker in a role? Or, simply, did she have no idea what system she was part of at all: she liked the smell of the freshly cut grass against the blacktop; she enjoyed her white and pale green mowing, three-button polo; she liked riding that mower.
She was part of a system that expected the house to be kept: the meat, three sides, bread, salad, and sweet tea to be on the table when Dad got home; the children to be well-behaved (and if we weren’t, Dad would be told about. Dad, the Disciplinarian); the kitchen always had something cooking and somehow, always squeaky clean. Me? I am part of a system of “yes sir” and “yes ma’am,” eating the food put on my plate- even when I don’t want to- and always being polite to my elders, specifically white, authoritative men. Is it possible she challenged as she felt the need as I get my footing on what to challenge now? If so, I wonder if she too felt that she fell short. I wonder if she felt confused and overwhelmed by what to say (when to say it), what to become a part of, or what in the world a woman is! What is something that conditions me verses what I like? Did she wonder that? I wish I could ask her. I wonder that.
Even as I maybe invent what she knew of me… I know it was an unconscious love beyond either one of us….
I like the quiet. Things that were true of me as a child and are true of me now: I’d much prefer to sit under a tree and read on the grass, to cutting it up. To hop onto a ladder and to pick apples in the autumn brings joy to me. Cartwheels in the sunshine, grass and blackberry stains on a white dress don’t bother me, and holding, watching, drawing a leaf over crunching it is swell. I sometimes worry these will become post-it memories. Even as I maybe invent what she knew of me, what she did intentionally, I know it was an unconscious love beyond either one of us as she did those things. That the chores bestowed on me were probably more intentional than I ever knew, will I forget that she let me take a bucket of water and a wash cloth to wipe animal fur off the carpet, save that loudmouth vacuum? Will I forget that she knew me so well?
Maybe there is a social argument here, but I am willing to work to undo what needs to be undone and save what was a beautiful attempt to let me soak in the quiet. It’s always going to be a loud world where I will have to meditate over the time to speak as to not speak what I most fundamentally do not want to say. If she knew my discomfort with pointlessly, loud sound like vacuums, it’s because she was a sponge. From my year of tears crying anytime a blow dryer came near me to my plea to run out to the pool, make my way underwater, before she started the mower to how easy I was (still am) to scare, to startle, to feel as if something is going to get me so I slept with dozens of stuffed animals all around me, only leaving a teeny breathing hole. I’ve replaced the stuffed bears, monkey, doll, and (many, many) frogs with a golden retriever, but a car backfire will still run me ragged. It could be more logical than I realize: she was nurse who knew about my battle with ear infections. Did that have something to do with it? Whatever my connection, the detest of loud noises started young for me; whatever her connection, the affection for me started at my birth for her. I’ve figured out a lot of this on my own, sure, but I stand by that she saw more that I know. I see no way for a woman to be stronger than to love actively.
My mother was such an active lover. There are so many stories I could tell: the piano box she gave me on my older sister’s birthday because I didn’t ever feel lovable compared to my siblings, the way she adjusted my hair like a bird’s feather to wing because I was tender headed and hyper-sensitive, the yogurt lids she fished out of the trash can for that fundraiser that meant too much to me, putting underwear in my Christmas stocking (which with a boyfriend attendee at Christmas in the last few years, was not without some pink pigments on my cheeks). Was she that astute to know the vulgar nature of cutting grass was too much for me? Was it aspiration of her artist, she cultivated, to be free to think about why the hues of greens reflected the trees, to feel the words transform from the page to the sky and vice versa? I think so. Yet, mostly, I think she had one selfish thing her entire life, and damn! That woman loved to mow the grass.
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