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Holinger: How a lawn defines a person’s life

Published: Friday, May 10, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

There comes a time in a young boy’s – or girl’s – life when their father sits them down and recounts the most important thing in life.

So, one morning in late April or early May, after finishing some outside chores, you ask your child to turn off the TV, iPad and/or Xbox to join you on the back deck overlooking the yard. You pour into plastic cups a grown-up drink, lemon-flavored iced tea on the rocks.

“I propose a toast,” you say, holding up your cup. “To adulthood.”

You clunk cups, and begin.

“You smell that? Do you smell that? New-mown grass, kid. Nothing else in the world smells like it. I love the smell of new-mown grass in the morning. You know, one time I mowed a lawn for two hours. When it was all over, I walked over it. I didn’t find one of ’em, not one stinkin’ yellow dandelion. The smell, you know that cut-grass smell, the whole lawn. Smells like ... spring.”

Your child gazes up at you in awe. “How many times have you seen ‘Apocalypse Now?’ ”

“That’s for me to know, and for you to envy,” you say.

“Next week,” you add, voice shaking with emotion, “we’ll talk weed-whacking. After that, edging. You’ll be the envy of everyone in your class. Friends will sit by you and implore you to impart the wisdom that most parents shrink from sharing until their children are older. Thirteen, say.”

You are what you grow and mow. You understand this lawn defines you better than the car you drive. (In my case, a hand-me-down 1999 Ford Taurus station wagon, symbol of a boring, practical life. That’s not me. My self-image mirrors more a golf cart – an ego in need of constant recharging, and whines loudest when running at full speed.)

Unlike a car, a lawn is not bought only once after haggling with a salesman who, after the sale, you wish would brush his teeth with cement powder. A lawn is re-purchased year after year with blood, sweat and mulch. You take as much pride in its verdant shade as your teenage daughter in the application of lipstick and rouge.

Writers use lawns to illustrate the characters who own them. I can’t wait to see how the new movie of “The Great Gatsby” employs 3-D to portray the wealthy, old-moneyed Buchanans’ lawn, its description following the revelation that Tom played football in college: “The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens – finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run.”

Reading such poetry in prose proves transcendent, but then there’s sharing with your son or daughter an iced tea in sight of your newly-mown back yard while passing along green knowledge with the ease of hose water through “Jet Spray” setting. And that’s even better still.

• Rick Holinger has lived and taught high school in the Fox Valley since 1979. His poetry, stories, essays and book reviews have appeared in more than 100 literary journals. He is the founder and facilitator the St. Charles Writers Group. Contact him at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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