Lawn Cares

Harry Drabik

Living in an old city before we moved to Minnesota I associated grass with city parks and ball fields. The neighborhoods I knew were ones where street curb ran onto sidewalk that met the front stairs. There were no front lawns. You’d be lucky to find a dandelion in a sidewalk crack. We had back yards, but with a garage opening on the rear alley there was hardly enough room left to produce a lawn. Honestly, I didn’t know what we were getting into (my parents were likely naïve as I) when mom and dad embraced the goal of having a beautiful yard. Moving into our new “company” house in February it took spring to reveal the rocky raw dirt surrounding our field of mud.

The thrill of owning a house with large (by city standards) front, back, and side yards set mom and dad on a quest for lawn perfection. First came dealing with the barren soil, glacial till, the house was built on. We dug rocks for weeks. If there had been any fun wheeling barrow loads of stone to the curb to later be hauled away that pleasure was gone with the first blister. In my city days I’d enjoyed my share of throwing pieces of crushed limestone at gangs from other streets. The Minnesota version of stone moving had no fun in it, but with slave driving parents bearing down I had no choice but to keep plugging away at rock removal.

Once all the rock and construction debris was cleared away it was time for my lawn obsessed parents to pounce on the subject of fill. Compared to other areas northern Minnesota has no black dirt; many other forms of soil, but precious little black agricultural dirt. Muskeg was available, however, so they began with that. Loads of wet black muskeg were delivered and then had to be sorted to remove gnarled ancient roots and blackened rocks. Some muskeg loads were half debris that had to be carted away. I was young enough to still have thought it may have been fun to cover my body in gooey black soil and stand outdoors as a dark snowman, but weeks of muskeg shoveling eliminated any thought of entertainment relating to that topic.

MMM, but my lawn visionary parents weren’t done yet. Atop four inches of laboriously prepped muskeg we had to have an equal depth of what was billed by the supplier as “sandy loam.” The sandy part was the most of it. I had to admit the yards looked less mournful covered in sandy loam brown than midnight black, but in terms of gardening we’d entombed a thick organic layer with a cap of sterile sand. The whole business of site clearing and then soil topping was complete before summer heated up. I was glad. I believed that once the grass grew I’d be free of the chains binding me to yard drudgery. I’d be free to ride my bike, go exploring, or hit the swim beach. Ah, freedom!

I was wrong. It took a prodigious amount of constant watering to get seed to germinate in sterile sand and keep in alive.  Eventually the grass roots would reach into the organic base level, but until that happened there was a thirteen year old who could be kept busy half his time moving sprinklers. It was a joyless world where I sincerely hoped the barefoot caution I had to observe walking on our new grass was silently killing what I trod on. It didn’t. Many days and gallons later we had a successful yard where muddy dirt had once been.

Normal people would have been satisfied with a job well done and a lawn nicely established. My parents were not normal. Their green triumph had to be the greenest and most lushly gorgeous of any lawn in sight. To accomplish that a lot more water was used, and fertilizer. Mother was a fertilizer fanatic as passionately committed to vegetable world fertilization as she was staunchly opposed to any expression of animal fertility. Privately I wondered, despite mother’s high regard for it, if virginity had the future she saw in it, but I kept wisely mum. Silent I was and stayed as our overstimulated grass rose above ankle high. We had, from our city days, a top end geared reel mower perfectly adequate for a back yard the size of a few double beds. The grass around our house was more like thatch. With a running start I might make a foot or two before stalling. But there was a solution. One day father came home with a large box, smiled, and said “This is for you. I’ll help you put it together.” Happy at a gift and trusting I discovered this box held worse than Pandora. It contained the rotary mower that would encumber my life until the snow would set me free.

A well-watered heavily fertilized lawn needed moving two or three times a week. It was like being wedded to a lawn that provided none of the possible benefits of a marriage. More horrible, mowing was the least of this nuptial contract. Plodding after the mower was followed by careful raking. Then edge clipping had to be done and walkways swept clean. My green bride wouldn’t even bring me a drink. I was bound to an uncooperative and demanding mistress. You may think I exaggerate, but consider that a female fertilizer fanatic would be equally zealous about planting flower gardens and other features that left few clear shots where I could go ten feet without need to stop or change direction. The lawn looked nice and was an addition, but I wanted a divorce, a wish much frowned on in our church.

Years later when I lived on the North Shore and had a front yard of cobblestone I didn’t mind one bit. Suited me just fine as does my present situation having the least lush of any lawn in sight. After all these years, finally a bride I’m able to satisfy