Just Being Neighborly

My next-door neighbor Rick has mown my lawn for eleven years. He has done so for free –absolutely no charge, even with gas at nearly $4 a gallon–since the day I moved in. I offered, to which he’d take umbrage, pretending not to see me as we both fetched our newspapers until he’d recover from my ill manners.

I believe he also did this for Fred, the original owner of my home, a little old man who probably appreciated the chore being done for him–as did I. Being of a precise and practical nature (I’ve learned this of Fred over the years from living in his compact home), Fred probably also appreciated that Rick mowed the grass to within an inch of its life–shorter than an inch in length.

How terribly practical to scalp the lawn so you don’t have to cut it very often, Fred might have figured. Personally, this is where Fred and I would have parted.

I asked Rick once a year, at the beginning of each mowing season, to leave my grass four inches long.

Each year his look was one of shock and confusion, like: What is this stupid woman saying?

Then he would nod at me and say, by way of being neighborly, “Sure,” but his look said, “Just agree.”

Just agree and go back to cutting it short as a golf green at Augusta.

I didn’t help matters over the years. I have no need for grass and mowers–I don’t have children to use the yard for a soccer field or to pitch a tent. I love trees and shrubs and unkempt hedges, all of which require more time to mow around. Instead of a third of an acre in the shape of a racetrack, I plunked down a hedge of lilacs, a row of Green Giants, a bed of herbs and bulbs around a Japanese red maple.

Rick took these in stride, riding over the mulch and tearing up the thin plastic weed guards–and if he still couldn’t get close enough to the sprigs of grass growing up the tree trunks, he’d pull out the weed whacker and go to town–gouging the bark, whacking off flowers, even slicing into the siding of my house.

Grass was to be tamed, the little woman controlled, no matter the collateral damage, no matter if I asked him not to. The result, if not his intent, was always, “She gets it for free. I get to do it my way.”

But it wasn’t free. Every summer I wracked my brain trying to think what to give him by way of thanks: a case of good beer (turns out he only drinks scotch), a gift certificate to his favorite bar (turns out he doesn’t go there anymore), a gift certificate to his favorite new bar (that was the year he decided the amount was too much so he promptly delivered a bottle of wine the size of my leg, because he could not stand to be beholden).

And still my tree trunks were scarred and dangling tomato-plant limbs hacked off–and by August the grass was so short he was mowing dirt into dust storms and turning my yard into a mud hole with the first autumn rain.

Last week his wife Kathy called me to say she didn’t want Rick mowing my lawn anymore, because of the steep bank out front. She said, “I’m worried he’s going to slip and break a hip.”

Rick smokes like a chimney–he leaves a trail of cigarette butts across my yard–so my concern has been less about the steep bank and more about the impending heart attack.

“He is worried about one thing,” Kathy added.

“What’s that?”

“He hopes he likes how the next person does your yard.”

“Oh sure,” I said, being neighborly. I’m just glad the next person I hire will charge me, leaving me free to tell him to leave his weed whacker at home.

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