Revisited: The rewards of Sunday yard work

Well it’s Sunday and, especially here in the South, this is considered a day of rest. In fact we’re especially passionate about resting on the sabbath in my home county, going so far as to enact blue laws to require a certain level of tranquility (no alcohol-assisted leisure, for example). You will relax and you will enjoy it, as mandated per state statute 593.B(3)(a).

It’s actually not the rest and relaxation that’s so important to this God-fearing part of the country as another R&R – religion and repair. Now I thought I was raised a good Christian way back in the ‘50s and ‘60s when that meant something a little different than it does today. We went to church once a week, somehow enduring 30 minutes of Sunday school and an hour of formal church service in the tropical heat of south Florida, followed by a fellowship hour featuring the hot coffee so useful in replenishing our fluids. We threw in a Thursday evening of choir practice and the occasional potluck supper and it felt like we were seriously into Jesus. The most flamboyant I ever got was when, as an acolyte, I once got carried away lighting the altar candles and accidentally set the Easter lilies on fire. Fortunately, the baptismal font was nearby.

We could never compete though with the Southern Baptists here in the Bible Belt, who add in Wednesday night services, weekend-long retreats, letter-writing campaigns against progressives and group prayers before every gathering of more than a half-dozen people. We were Lutherans, a more staid denomination rooted in the sober background of the northeast and midwest. I attended the improbably-named Biscayne Boulevard Lutheran Church just up the street from the Orange Bowl parade and around the corner from the Playboy Club until my mid-teens. I was confirmed, whatever that means – my clearest memory now of classes in the pastor’s study was when I was scolded for cleaning my fingernails with the card-stock handout he had given us – but bailed shortly thereafter when my father began working overtime on Sundays and we no longer had transportation.

Lutheranism has gotten a certain reputation thanks to Garrison Keillor. However, I believe he’s glossed over one facet of the belief that stuck with me long after Nicene and Apostolic and Catechism had just become words that sounded like good Hollywood baby names. (Though I do fondly remember the benediction as extremely uplifting, as it came immediately following the sermon and meant we were almost done). To me, Lutheranism is the crystal meth of Protestantism. By that I mean it has made me feel that I can’t rest and relax until I’ve accomplished something, and even then I’m not so sure about it. I must keep working and working and accomplishing and accomplishing until I’m too exhausted to continue, and only then is it acceptable to collapse on the couch. This work ethic served me well during the years my job offered plenty of overtime, but it’s becoming a real handicap as the demand for our work ebbs and AARP solicitations start arriving in the mail.

Most homeowners in my situation are able to channel this need to achieve into their lawns, gardens or other home-improvement projects. My coworkers talk long and passionately about caulking and aerating and mulching and spackling, though I have only the vaguest idea of what these concepts involve. I’m sure I need at least some of them – my deck has loose boards, my edging woodposts are rotting to splinters and my gutters are flowering better than anything else on my property – but I’m not sure how caulking is supposed to fix this. I go to the home improvement store and buy a hot dog and a bag of ant killer, but for some reason that doesn’t help. When things get desperate enough, like when a dead tree is about to fall on my house or the air-conditioner stops conditioning air, I call a guy to come fix it. He pulls some fantastic dollar amount out of one of his impressive array of pockets and I pay it like the chump I am, rather than reveal my inability to ask an intelligent question about the project.

I’ve had to draw the line somewhere though, so I’ve managed to become pretty good at mowing the lawn. I know it’s not much, but it is one reliable way to get sweaty and dirty and bug-bitten like a respectable suburbanite. I know how to prime the engine and I can usually get the thing started after only several pulls of the rope. Maintenance-wise, I know you have to put gas in the gas tank thing and I understand there’s something about changing the oil every now and then, but fortunately it hasn’t come to that yet. Some things I’ve learned the hard way: don’t take it to the shop without checking the blades first to see that there’s no blockage of clippings (“heh, heh, I forgot all about that” I offered meekly); and don’t expect it to start in the spring if you haven’t run out the gas the previous fall. Oh yeah, and don’t reach underneath with your hand while the blades are running – I’m especially good at remembering that.

I’m working now on my second mowing season since our old yard guy apparently died (at least I guess that’s why he stopped showing up). I put on my special yard-mowing pants, my special hat and my old worn running shoes and I’m ready to crank about every other weekend. I thrill to the successful start, enjoy the mesmerizing zen of walking back and forth and back and forth across my patch of grass, then stand back and admire my work like a sculptor when I’m done. For that brief time, I’m exercising my domain over the earth and accomplishing something significant by reducing my blades of fescue from two inches down to a far-more-sane inch and a half. Then, and only then, I can rest peacefully.

I think Martin Luther would be proud of me.

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2 Responses to “Revisited: The rewards of Sunday yard work”

  1. fakename2 Says:

    This so resonates with me. I can relate well to the yardwork stuff (I have vines growing on my house, which I think is Confederate Jasmine. Can you give me any advice on how to get rid of it, without actually going out there and cutting the stems which connect the vines to the roots? Plus, I really like the flower parts, which smell good. Is there any way I can keep them and get rid of the annoying leaf parts? I realize you have shut down the Advice section of your blog, but I’m hoping you’ll make a special exception due to the urgent nature of my request.)
    But what really grabbed me is “Blue Laws”. I’ve been living in states without them so long I forgot they existed. Thus after a harrowing trip to Georgia on a Sunday I discovered that I was unable to buy a bottle of wine to console myself.

  2. alissamiles Says:

    I have a feeling that your “yard-mowing-pants” are similar to my “dust-all-the-cobwebs-off-the-chandelier-pants” or my “sweep-out-the-garage-and-find-dead-things-pants” or “try-to-wash-the-bird-poop-out-of-my-dog’s-hair-pants.”

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