by Jim Dees

Spring is sprung and with the pleasant temps and blooming blooms comes the dark side: yard work and leaf blowers. Someone took the 1970s technology for blow-dryers, souped it up like a booster rocket and now your neighbors can blast every twig and half-leaf over their entire yard at NASCAR volume. 

Let there be a special torture chamber in the afterlife – outfitted with 10,000 shrieking blowers – for the inventor of this device.

Yard work is like broccoli – you hated it as a kid, but somehow developed a taste for it in your harried adulthood. Perhaps it’s the sweating, the immediate gratification of the dirty task, or simply just a few blessed moments away from Big Data and the opiate of the screen.

In my crew-cut childhood, on every Saturday in season, our dad would dutifully put my brother and I through our paces, mowing the yard. Before I was quite old enough, he started my older brother on an electric lawn mower. A small, light push mower with a LONG extension cord that plugged into a socket inside the house with the window cracked. 

I can remember on wet, dewy mornings, my father would walk along every step as my brother pushed that buzzing, electric contraption through the sog. In later years, when I would ruminate on this memory, I wondered what my dad had in mind… did he simply want to be there when my brother was electrocuted? And then what? 

By the time I was old enough, six or seven, he had switched to a gas mower and I began a life-long association with Briggs-Stratton. People who grew up on the old “reel” push mowers may snicker, but gas mowers involve a fair amount of exertion, row after row, year after year.

Thus, as a kid, mowing was a chore. As an adult, it’s therapy without the couch. 

At some point our father began paying us a couple of bucks, eventually up to $5 a week. We picked up extra money mowing some yards in the neighborhood and suddenly the enterprise displayed promise.

I eventually took my skills city-wide when a buddy and I got hired one summer with the crew that mowed our city cemetery in Greenville, MS. Talk about finesse work! As close to surgery as I’ll get. 

There is possibly no better tasting beer in the world than that first one you pop after an August afternoon spent trim-mowing a cemetery. 

Once my brother and I hit college, on our first visit back home for Christmas, we noticed our father, with cheap labor vanished from the house, had gotten himself a riding lawn mower. Ditto a color TV.

Long into adulthood, I considered mowing yards a viable side hustle. As a young reporter for the Oxford Eagle in the late 1990s, my co-worker Jonny Miles and I considered starting a mowing service in Oxford. Miles already had clients for whom he did light handyman chores. One niche we thought of was to offer a discount for writers in town. (Instead of the 40 or 50 published authors presently, back then it was 20 or so). In true pie-in-sky thinking, we came up with a name and logo before anything else. We’d call the business, “Literary Landscapes” and the logo would be a small figure mowing words off the page of an open book. 

We kept our day jobs.

An interesting footnote to the notion of literary landscapes is found in a rare photo from 1949. The picture is the only known photo taken of brothers – and authors – John and William Faulkner together as adult men. The pic was taken by Phil Mullen, then-editor of the Eagle who said he happened to be driving by John’s place on University Ave. 

Mullen glanced over, saw the two chatting in the yard, pulled over, grabbed his camera and quickly got their photo. It apparently happened very quickly because William can be seen holding a funnel in the picture. Mullen reported that William had come over to John’s house to retrieve a lawn mower he had lent him.

What is really remarkable to me – aside from their resemblance – is that both are wearing neck-ties. 

Faulkner, neck tie and all, probably had someone else mow his yard, knowing his aversion to loud noise. Here’s a man who asked The Mansion steak house to unplug the jukebox whenever he dined there. He hated the whirl of air-conditioning, it took away the weather, he said. Even his own conversation could be notoriously limited.

As for leaf-blowers, I think it’s safe to say we can put Faulkner down as a hard no.