Twelve years of age is the traditional time when boys are passed from their mothers to their fathers to learn the ways of men. It’s folklore playing out in front of our eyes. Gone are the first hunts and fresh deer kills, gone are the long ocean fishing trips without life preservers, today we have lawns and power tools.
My father passed away before I was 10, since he was mostly an absentee drunk I don’t recall missing him much at all. In fact, I wasn’t sure what all the fuss what about that April 1968. After his death my mother and the four of us kids bonded in a way that can best be described as “…us against the world.”
My brother and I were the closest of friends and allies; we played and worked as a team. As you may imagine mom felt the need to move about once every year or so (probably for financial reasons which were lost on us any way), thus at a very young age Dan and I could pack a moving truck like professionals. It’s not often you will see an 11 and 12 year old pair of boys move refrigerators, washers and dryers with the precision we managed.
One month after turning 12 years old, mom packed us all up and sent us off from Washington DC to Eatonville Washington to live with Grandma Jo. That, my friends, is the true definition of culture shock! From arguably the center of the political universe to an old Washington State logging town, the change is full of mystery, adventure and drama.
Grandma Jo was old school in how to raise kids, and apparently the years without my mom or Uncle Arnold around hadn’t softened her one bit. She was raised in a remote area of Alberta Canada and had to ride a horse to school it was so far away. She didn’t have electricity or indoor plumbing until she left home and worked as a cook in a Canadian logging camp at the age of 21. Grandma Jo put me and my brother to work doing “manly” things directly. There was wood to stack and lawns to mow, neither of which I had any clue as to the effort involved. Stacking wood was easy to understand though boring, mowing the lawn with Grandma’s self-propelled mower…now that was the kind of manly stuff, in my 12 year old world view, I was born to do.
I recall the very first time Grandma Jo summoned me to the far corner of her property. The beautiful red power mower was gassed up and ready for go. Up to that point Dan had been doing the chore, now he sat on the edge of the porch and watched as I was left to figure it all out. Grandma thought it best to let me ‘learn myself how to do it’, that way I’d remember.
After several failed attempts at starting the mower, my brother came over to assist, explaining sarcastically as only brothers can, “…ya gotta be tougher than the mower.” Once the mower roared to life he explained how to engage the wheels to move it forward, to me it was more like lurching forward in jerking movements. The nice straight rows of freshly mowed lawn, you know, the ones that make a lawn appear well manicured, were elusive to me. I soon learned I was mowing the ‘Field of Dreams’ for all the moles in the state. Honestly, that yard must have been a protected sanctuary some tree hugging, animal loving bureaucrat forced on Grandma…curses! As if keeping straight mowed columns wasn’t enough, the grass catcher was full at the end of each row. Washington grass is the wet kind, and that means heavy! The only saving grace was the clippings went into the mulch pit which thankfully was at ground level, though on the far side of the property.
In time, the chore became easier as I grew stronger, finally “…tougher than the mower.”
This is how I experienced my first ‘rite of passage’ into being a man. The only real witness was my closest, best friend, Dan and moles planning their next assault.
One evening last week I summoned my son to the front yard. One evening last week, without much planning on my part I determined the boy would step into manhood in the same modern, yet timeless fashion I had.
One evening last week I summoned my son, the lawn mower was gassed and ready to go…..
Today my son turns 12 years old.
Thanks for reading this far.