By: Jerry R. Barksdale
I became aware of my unusual interest in having a beautiful lawn shortly after my marriage ended and I moved from Huntsville back to Athens in 1999. At first, I didn’t recognize the symptoms. Little did I suspect that I would soon become afflicted with “Lawn Warrior Syndrome/Compulsive Disorder Overlay.” It’s a malady that targets mostly middle-age men, but can affect women.
Mama died in 1998 and I inherited a small house on Market Street. The front yard was mostly crab grass and weeds.
Miss Mable Romine, a spinster, lived across the street in a fine brick house surrounded by the most beautiful Zoysia grass lawn in Athens. It looked like a green carpet. Miss Mabel took great pride in her lawn. She was always inspecting it, sweeping it with a house broom, and picking up debris. If a leaf floated down, she would run over and remove it. I would wave at Miss Mabel, but she ignored me. She didn’t approve of my lawn. I wanted to have a pretty lawn, too, and be accepted by Miss Mabel and my neighbors. I didn’t have a wife ordering me to vacuum, carry out garbage, wash windows, and scrub the bathrooms. I was free to work in the yard. That was the beginning of my psychology problem. I sprayed my yard with Round Up and killed existing grass, tilled up the soil, and raked up a ton of rocks. Miss Mable kept a watchful eye on my activity but didn’t say anything. I hadn’t considered how to dispose of the rocks. The City furnished a large, green plastic garbage can. Just what I needed. I filled it with a ton of rocks.
I was still in bed one morning when I heard the strangest sound—“Er-Er-Er-Er,” like an elephant trying to have a bowel movement. Then a crashing noise like a rock slide colliding with a tin building. I peeked out just as a cloud of dust rose above the rocking garbage truck. The rocks were gone, but I did receive a visit from a representative of the Department of Sanitation. He asked if I put rocks in my garbage can. “I allegedly did,” I said.
Next, I laid Zoysia sod, the same variety that Miss Mable had. A couple of weeks later, the sod turned green and beautiful. Miss Mabel was out in her front yard picking up debris when she yelled across the road, “Your lawn sure is pretty.” Finally she approved of me.
We all have a need to be accepted. I get a warm feeling when I insert my credit card and the screen flashes “approved.”
Later, I sold my little house on Market Street and moved to 407 Washington Street. I hired my cousin’s husband, Chuck Farmer, to landscape and sod my front yard with fescue. It took a while. Chuck was a popular landscaper, and there was crappie fishing and then deer hunting, but when Chuck showed up, he did a magnificent job. My front lawn was beautiful. I hired Pure Green to spray monthly, pulled stray grass and mowed it in one direction, then crossways and caught the clippings. People would stop and compliment me on my yard. I was happy and loved my lawn, never realizing that it was my sickness at work. I just thought I was having fun.
After retirement, I moved to a 9-acre farm on Elk River with about 6 acres of grass. I also purchased the seller’s riding mower. My plan was to mow a strip on the inside of the pasture fence and keep it weed free, then bush hog the remainder.
I mowed one round along the fence and it looked so neat that I mowed another one. It looked even prettier. I kept mowing. At the end of the day I had mowed the entire pasture – and busted most of the rocks and whacked up fallen walnuts and limbs. My neighbors called my mower the “rock crusher.” I tore up the mower – many times – so many, in fact, that I had to buy a trailer to haul it to a repair shop weekly. It finally died. Then I purchased a Craftsman from Sears. Same story.
My neighbors Buddy Stokes and Ken Hill have zero turn mowers. While I was bumping along at snail speed, they were flying by at warp speed. Show offs! The Craftsman began smoking, a little at first, then really bad.
My good friend (and sometimes red head) Pat urged me to buy a zero turn. I think she was embarrassed by my unmanly smoking mower. Which do you think a woman will fall for -- a guy bumping along in a jalopy or in a fast, sleek T-bird? You get the picture.
We went to H & R Agri-Power on Highway 31 South andlooked at mowers. Daniel Bates showed me an Exmark zero turn with a 52” cut. He insisted that I drive it. I’d never seen a lawnmower that looked like a pre- historic beast. I cautiously climbed aboard and headed out. Wow! I felt like King Tut at the controls of a D-6 Caterpillar. It was fast -- two-barrel carburetor, seat belt, and roll bar. I would be the Cale Yarbrough of lawnmowers on Dement Road and the envy of my neighbors. I bought it.
An employee drove the new mower forward on my 56” wide trailer. I thought nothing of it until I arrived home and tried to back it off. The wheels wedged on the side. The mower was stuck. I read the owner manual. “Back up ramp and drive forward down.” Now they tell me. I powered up and threw it in reverse. I almost took the tires off, but I unloaded – fast! I was going backward and headed toward the woods. I shoved the control bar forward, slammed into a metal fence post, backed up, then hit two dogwood trees in succession, went beneath another tree, and the mower reared straight up. “Whoa! Down Trigger! Down you fool!” The roll bar had caught on a limb. The mower was dangerous, with a mind of its own. I started talking to myself. “I’d better get in the middle of the pasture before it kills me.” There is no steering wheel, only two control bars, sort of like flying a B-17 on a bombing mission – and just as dangerous. It took off at warp speed. That’s when I knew why there are roll bars and seat belt. I was going in every direction at the same time, cutting a 52” swatch and slinging grass clipping and fire ants. The pasture looked like a UFO landing zone. Oh, I forgot to mention, the mower went rogue again and crashed through a patch of poke sallet.
My symptoms are worse, I know they are. Recently, someone stopped and asked a neighbor directions to my house, “You mean that nut that mows his cow pasture with a riding mower?”
That’s me folks - lawn warrior.
By: Jerry R Barksdale