22 August 2012

Character builder

Across the street.

I saw the dog first, then the man. They emerged from the bushes downhill, ahead of me and slightly to the right. I had been dreading this day for most of the year. I let go of the handle, and the lawn mower slowed itself to a stop.

I pulled off my glove and steeled my nerves. "Hello!" I waved, and as I walked toward him, I offered my hand. "My name is Chris."

"Hello, Chris, my name is Dennis, and this is my dog, Tyler."

I knealt down and patted the golden retriever on the head, certain that I'll forever make the mistake of calling him Tugboat. "Hello there, Tyler."

Dennis -- and Tyler -- live in the house that's across the street and just downhill from mine, and so carry responsibility for the small piece of land on which we stood. This 8-foot-wide strip of grass abuts the road and has a stop sign, and is separated from his house by a hedgerow some 6 feet tall; though it belongs to his property, it could easily be forgotten.

For me, however, it is the first thing I see when I pull out of the driveway each day, and earlier this year I grew tired of the flowering grass and weeds which had reached knee height. Now, I hate mowing -- hate it with a passion, and am very allergic to grass -- and I specifically chose a house that would require the bare minimum of lawn care. Instead, I found myself dragging 200 feet of extension cord across the street -- still plugged into the outlet on our driveway light -- and cutting someone else's weeds every couple of weeks. This was my mower, my electricity, my time.

Needless to say, I wasn't happy about it.

At first, I wasn't sure the house was occupied. But then a few weeks ago, just before Wausau, I could hear a dog behind the bushes, and was pretty sure they were home while I was out there cutting their lawn. But they didn't appear, so I never met the folks living there, never once had an inkling that they even knew the grass was theirs. So I went on cutting, muttering under my breath each time, too stubborn to walk over and knock on their door. I took to calling it my "Agenda 21 mandate;" my thankless sacrifice to our home owner's association.

Saturday was particularly epic: it's been a few weeks since Wausau, and we've had our first appreciable rains of the season. Each blade was heavy with dew, and the crab grass was 4 feet tall if it was an inch. I was fighting for every foot, lifting the mower up and over, dragging it back and forth, stopping to clean it out every other pass. It was slow going, and despite the cool, early-morning temperature I was sweating behind my dust mask. I wanted to be done, I had other things to do, and it was taking four times longer than it should.

And then I saw the dog.

Even though I believed I was doing this guy a favor, I was nervous. This is North Carolina, after all, where even so much as stepping on another man's property can get you shot. And here I was, halfway through the year, cutting his grass by trespassing every so often. He would have been well within his rights to tell me to piss off, to mind my own business.

I needn't have worried.

"I want to thank you," Dennis said. "I've been trying to figure out who has been cutting this all year; I figured the county sure wouldn't. I really appreciate that you're out here."

Dennis, you see, is a cancer survivor. The chemo required to treat him had nearly destroyed his bladder, and when he began renting the house in March, he knew he'd be unable to keep up with the lawn care, meager as it is -- the surgery needed to keep him alive prevented him from doing anything physical. His next-door neighbor has been helping his wife with the front yard, but this back part was a bit too much. And so it sat, unless I was home to cut it.

We chatted for a few more minutes, and like the good Southern gentleman that he is, Dennis was able to get more information from me than I from him. Still, I learned enough to know that he's got a pretty interesting backstory, and it turns out we have some acquantances in common over in Columbia, South Carolina. It is indeed a very small world.

And that was that. Dennis shook my hand one more time and told me thanks, I patted Tyler on the head, and they disappeared behind the hedgerow. I put my gloves back on, moved the electrical cord out of the way, and fired up the blade.

There was a lawn to be mowed.

1 comment:

TheMutt said...

Great story. It's funny how your view of a person can change when you really get to know them.