Long ago I learned to count my many blessings, though some are often not realized until spotted in hindsight. Some, however, are right there in front of me and I’m quick to recognize and take advantage of them. Such was the case on a particularly hot and humid Saturday morning.
I got up early to knock out the lawn mowing around my home and was just about to finish the backyard when I noticed a slow-moving, elderly man trimming the new neighbor’s yard with a weed-eater. I stopped crooning along to Maroon 5 long enough to remind myself that I really need to get one of those, and kept pushing on.
After a couple more laps walking behind the push mower, I realized the man was riding his mower, trailer in tow, in my direction. I mentally groaned, imagining the forthcoming conversation about how he could do all the work for me, for a fee. I smiled, released the bar on the push mower and unplugged my ears as he came to a stop.
“Howdy,” I greeted him.
“Hey. How are ya?” he said.
“Hanging in there,” I said, trying to ignore the sweat that was dripping off my nose and chin.
Aside from being a budget issue for this single working mom, my personal lawn care efforts had become a matter of pride early in the season when another man had laughed at the idea of me push-mowing my large yard, instead of paying him to keep it up for me. Anytime I find myself balking at the idea of the two-plus-hour job, I remember that laugh, plug in my ear buds, step into my grass-stained work sneakers and haul my paid-for mower out of the shed, stuffing another $60 into my mental savings account.
“Would it be alright if I weed-eat around yer yard?” he said.
“I can’t afford to pay you,” I said.
“I didn’t ask you to,” he said with a grin so wide it gave the laugh lines around his eyes greater depth.
How could I resist a smile like that? Shushing the itty, bitty voice that reminded me nothing is ever truly free, I decided to take him up on his offer.
“Well, I’d be really grateful,” I said, and extended my hand. “I’m Juanita.”
He gripped my hand.
“I’m John,” he said. “I’ve heard about you.”
I was surprised that I’d given my neighbors anything to talk about. After living in Parkton for a year, I don’t know any of them. Shameful, I know.
OK, so my former roommate and I did help a neighbor locate her sister in a nearby hospital when she showed up at my door last winter asking to use a phone. She had been locked out of her home and couldn’t get anyone to answer her calls. And I’ve bought candy bars and cookies that neighborhood kids were pushing for their school fundraisers.
“From my nephew,” John said. “He lives over there in the doublewide.”
He was talking about the friendly guy who had knocked on my door a couple of times, asking if he could burn the pallets I had saved for DIY projects.
“Oh! Got ya,” I said.
Once familiarity was established, John went on to tell me he’d had a stroke a couple weeks before, and how it had affected his leg and arm.
“I do what I can,” he said.
“Are you sure you want to do this today?” I asked. It was terribly hot, and the humidity was heavy.
A look flashed over his face, encompassing worry, need and hope.
“I need to,” he said, with that grin. “I gotta have something to do.”
“OK. Well, I’m gonna knock out the rest,” I said. “I really appreciate your help.”
I squeezed the push mower’s bars gave the pull rope a big tug. The mower purred to life and I pushed on.
After a few laps, I noticed John, weed-eater in one hand, leaning against the stair rail with his head hanging a bit. With the heat and humidity, I’d already mentally deposited $60 a few times myself, but I kept moving and kept an eye on him.
John straightened up and continued trimming, and then he disappeared around the back of the trailer.
Worry grew as time passed and I hadn’t seen John. There really was very little that needed trimming, but I finally saw him slowly walking toward his lawn tractor. He sat down on the trailer and let his tall, lean frame sag.
I let the push mower turn off.
“Hey!” I yelled. “Want some water?”
“Are you sure?”
“Well, if you don’t mind.”
I hurried inside, grabbed a bottle from the fridge, and scooted out the backdoor with it. John accepted it with a grateful smile.
“Yeah, I do what I can,” he said.
I returned to the mower, and kept a watch on my new friend. The distraction from my own concerns made the job seem to end much, much sooner, and just as I saw John sit down on his trailer again, I made my last two passes in the front yard.
I released the bar on the mower and pushed it around the corner of the trailer just in time to see John take a seat on his lawn tractor and turn the key. He was facing away from me but, as he drove away, he looked back.
I raised my arm and smiled as big as I could. “Thank you so much!”
He raised his and smiled back, even bigger. “Thank you!”
It had cost us nothing to be kind to each other, unless you count blessings as currency. In that case, we had an even exchange. And John’s blessing to me is forever secure in my mental savings account.
Reach Juanita Lagrone at [email protected] or call 910-416-5865.