Musings of a Matriarch: Of lawnmowers, stones and dog bones

Sharon Kennedy

As a few bare patches of yard begin to appear on my south lawn, I rejoice that winter may finally be over. Those last 15 inches of snow from a week ago panicked me. I wondered if it would ever leave. Now my fear is allayed as the sun slowly melts the white stuff and the drain in my garage is unclogged. I no longer have to chop ice and bail water. Soon it will be time to get out the lawnmower. Never again will I complain about the weekly chore of cutting grass.

When I was a child, the thought of owning a lawnmower was as foreign as fresh strawberries in January. There was no need for a mower because we had cows. About once a week a few old Bessies were allowed to eat the grass in our front yard. Our cattle were as tame as housecats. I don’t remember who watched them, but I know it wasn’t me. Most likely my sister, Jude, stood guard and waved a little switch if they meandered too close to the road.

The summer I was 11 Mom decided it was time to cut the grass like normal people. Her brother lived across the road in the family home where both were born. Uncle Steve was a construction worker and followed the jobs so he was usually gone during summer. Jude was elected to borrow his lawnmower, the very thought of which sent shivers down her spine.

At 15, my sister was fearless of anything with four legs, but something with a motor was an entirely different matter. Once she walked the mower home, Dad filled the gas tank and checked the oil. The machine was ready for action. I sat on the front porch and watched Jude walk the length of the yard with all the gusto of a fellow heading for the gallows.

Those of you who lived in a city or town during your childhood will probably recall a lawn different from ours. Perhaps your perfectly trimmed plot of grass was surrounded by fragrant rose bushes, an assortment of colorful perennials, and a white picket fence. Maybe a swing hung from the maple tree. You might have played in a little sandbox made just for you. Your yard was a perfect paradise.

However, if you grew up on a farm the pristine picture I just painted didn’t exist, at least not at our place. Our front yard was a mess. Jude’s greatest fear wasn’t the amount of grass that needed cutting. It wasn’t the length or width of the yard that scared her or the amount of time and energy required for the job. It wasn’t even the noise of the mower. Jude’s greatest fear was of stones and dog bones hidden among the timothy.

You know what Job said about his greatest fear coming true? Well, what was true in Biblical times was also true in 1958. As Jude gained confidence in her task, she became less diligent in keeping an eye out for obstacles in her path. Her gait increased, her attention wandered, and she failed to notice the rock until she hit it. To this day, I still wonder how she ever regained self-confidence once she broke Uncle Steve’s lawnmower.

When the machine stopped, and Jude went down, I was sure she was dead. According to an entry in my old diary, it was July 9, a day that lived forever in the mind of my sister and caused her no end of grief. Little pieces of rock went through her overalls and lodged in her leg, but the pain of that was insignificant compared to the fear lawnmowers instilled in her. I don’t think she ever cut grass again.

Mom had a fit that her brother’s mower was ruined, but Dad took things in stride. After looking it over, he said it just needed a new blade. Dad was no carpenter but he was good at fixing tractors, combines and other farm equipment. Everybody calmed down and Jude limped to the house, vowing to never again go near such a dangerous piece of artillery. No amount of coaxing and reassuring ever got her close to our own lawnmower when my parents finally bought one.

Although Mom loved flowers, the only ones we had in our yard were put there by Mother Nature. Chickens love to scratch, and Mom knew it was a losing battle to keep them away from bulbs or seeds. I’m not sure if her hypothesis was based on fact or fiction, but I know she never planted so much as a marigold until she moved into this trailer. Then her green thumb emerged.

Lawn care fell to her and woe unto the grass if it grew an inch taller than she thought it should. Little white fences appeared. Old tires cut in the shape of petals were spray painted and filled with petunias. Plastic chickens and ducks dotted the front yard. Daffodils, crocus and tulips poked their heads through the spring earth.

This time of year was Mom’s busiest as she sprinkled bare patches with grass seed and raked the above-ground tunnels of dirt created by moles. She loved her yard and never complained about the work involved in keeping it looking nice.

Did she keep a sharp eye out for stones and dog bones? Absolutely!

Editor’s note: Sharon M. Kennedy of Brimley is a humorist who infuses her musings with a hardy dose of matriarchal common sense. She writes about everyday experiences most of us have encountered at one time or another on our journey through life. Her articles are a combination of present day observations and nostalgic glances of the past. She can be reached via email at In addition, Sharon has compiled a collection of stories from her various newspaper columns. The title of her book is “Life in a Tin Can.” Copies are available from Amazon in paperback or Kindle format.