The, old, reel-style, push mower
Mowing lawn in the 1960's
It’s funny that something as common as mowing the lawn can remind me of my youth, but it does. I first started mowing lawns when we lived in the Park Hill neighborhood of East Denver, and I did it with an old, reel-type, push mower. I do not remember exactly how old I was the first time I mowed the lawn, but I remember that I was cautioned to be very careful with the blades, and it was quite a few years before I was ever allowed to touch the gas-powered mower.
My mom was the divorced, single mother with four kids to raise. That was not an easy task, but it was especially difficult in the 1960’s on the types of salaries women earned then. I really don’t know if my mom received any child support from her ex-husband, but I suspect the amount was very small, if she got any at all. As a family, we did the best we could, and managed to get by with a little help from the family, especially my mom’s sister Helen, and the maternal grandparents, the Demshkis.
One thing we did was to handle chores together. Oh, most of the time we kids were too young and too small to help out, but, sometimes we were just the help my mom needed. After all, it was work enough for mom to hold down her job at Procter and Gamble in Denver. It was almost impossible to come home after that and take care of a house with a yard and four kids.
In a sense, I was the lucky one of the kids because I was the boy and my mom believed in the separation of men’s work and women’s work. My sisters were required to do the dishes because it was women’s work, but I never had to. I, on the other hand, did things like take care of the dog, (which I did very poorly at that age), and yard work. In a kind of funny twist, although washing dishes was women’s work and I was not required to join in, when it came time to do the yard work, the men’s work, the whole family joined in, and I got the best job! I ran the mower.
Oh, sure, it was tough for a 10-year-old boy to push that mower around, especially on the hills in our front yard, but it was still better than kneeling down and working the hand-operated grass clippers used to trim the edges. My sisters and mother got to do that. Even though I didn’t think so at the time, I had it pretty easy. The yard was not very big.
Before long, my mom met a man, Wes Smith, that she eventually married, and we moved away from the house in Denver with the little yard to a house in the suburbs, Westminster, that had a much bigger yard. It was at least three times bigger, but, yet, I was actually anxious to mow it. You see, when mom got a husband, the family got a power mower and I wanted to try it out. It would not be long before my mind changed about that.
In the summer of 1969, Wes had this idea to make money cutting lawns. He got himself a truck, threw the mower in the back and would drive around cutting lawns. I do not think he had many clients, but he did have a helper. He would take me with him to mow the lawns. He worked the power mower while I trimmed the edges. For his services, he charged $6 from which he would pay me $1. Now, I began to understand how my sisters felt. Even in the 60’s, one dollar was pretty poor wages for crawling around on your hands and knees for a couple of hours. I guess that business adventure did not work out so well. I don’t remember it lasting past that summer.
It was not long before I was old enough to handle the power-mower myself, and Wes was happy to hand off the responsibility of mowing the lawn to me. I didn’t care for that much, but at least I did not have to use that push mower anymore. The last time I used the push mower was in 1971 when my grandfather paid me $5 to come over and mow his lawn once a week. He made me go over everything twice, catch every blade and finish by trimming around the edge. Yes, I hated it and did in only the one year, but, for the first time in my life, I actually had some spending money.
When my grandfather passed, the mower I used first on the yard in Park Hill, and then on his yard in North Denver was still in the garage. There were actually two of them and no one wanted them. I took them and put them in my shed, and, even though they are never used and pretty much just get in the way, I keep them and all the memories that go with them.