Wednesday, August 28, 2013

let's talk about yard work.

According to James, I had the easiest childhood EVER. While James and his four brothers would be out chopping wood in the winter, I would be inside reading a book. While James would be washing dishes for his family of seven, I would be whining about having to load and unload the dishwasher. While James’s allowance was a quarter a week (“I had to save up for MONTHS to buy GI Joes!”), mine was a whopping three dollars – WITH potential for raises! (Of course, the raises came with increased responsibilities, but they were raises nonetheless.) And so on and so forth. Anything I had to do as a child, James had to do times ten and uphill both ways.

The great childhood labor divide is especially evident when it comes to yard work. From ages two to thirteen, I lived in a small house with a large yard. Yep: a large yard, and my participation in the yard work was negligible. Once in a great while, I’d be asked to pull some weeds or pick up sticks in the yard, but that was about it. I missed out on what I believe are the two biggest parts of yard work: mowing and shoveling snow. Why? Our yard was too large to mow with a push mower, and my mom has always enjoyed mowing (weird, I know). Same thing with snow shoveling: our driveway was simply too big (as many farm driveways are, since you need room for your tractors and combines), so Dad hooked the snow blower up to his tractor, and that was that.

We moved to a bigger house when I was 13, and my parents planted a shelter belt. I was then tasked with pulling the weeds out of the shelter belt so our saplings wouldn’t be overrun. It wasn’t a very taxing chore, but I always put it off as long as I could. With the exception of weed-pulling, my other chores were based indoors: dusting, unloading the dishwasher, folding laundry, etcetera. It was pretty rare that I had to get my hands dirty, and when I did, I was a big whiner.

For James? Things were a whole lot different. He and his family moved from Arizona to Minnesota when James was six, and the chores became a lot harder. His yard was at least as large as mine – maybe larger – and his driveway was longer by about a quarter of a mile. James and his brothers were responsible for shoveling show and mowing the yard – with push mowers, no less.

The first time I ever had to mow anything was when I worked at the Methodist camp. I was just a few months past 16, and when I took the job, I had no idea that there would be so much mowing involved.The place is HUGE, and the vast majority of it had to be mowed with push mowers. I had never operated a push mower before, and it was a lot harder than I thought. I ended the day covered in oil, grass, and dirt, and I couldn’t believe that I’d have to do it all over again in a few days. Same with the weed whacker: it was way too heavy for me and my non-existent upper body strength, and I had a terrible time just trying to start the thing. When I told James about this years later, he just laughed. And laughed. “Oh Calla,” he said. “That’s cute.” There is no sympathy to be had from James.

My first experience shoveling snow was – and this is a little embarrassing – at the ripe old age of 21. It was winter break, and I had gone to visit James and his family. It was a few days after Christmas, and we were hit with a spectacular snow storm. James and his brothers all set about shoveling the driveway, and I didn’t want to be the weenie who stayed inside, so I borrowed a pair of snow pants and got to work. I wasn’t very good at it – surprise – but I could finally say that I’ve shoveled snow.

My shoveling skills came in handy just a few weeks later: upon returning to school, my roommates Nate and Sara and I found that the driveway and the sidewalks of our rental house were all buried under several feet of snow. Sara and I had been unfortunate enough to have had our cars towed because they’d been snowed in on the street, so we weren’t taking that chance again. Nate, Sara, and I shoveled like there was no tomorrow –we only had two shovels, so we alternated/tried to use a music stand as a third shovel. We’re nothing if not resourceful.
Music stands make THE WORST shovels.
My latest and greatest shoveling experience was in Minneapolis in the winter of 2010, known to survivors as the Snowpocalypse. Minneapolis set snow fall records that year, and I was lucky (HA!) enough to be a part of it. James was living in Ellsworth at the time, and he had come to visit me on a chilly December weekend. One evening, the snow started and just didn’t stop. There was a snow emergency declared, so it meant we had to move our cars from where they were parked. James’s and my shovels were frozen in the trunks of our cars, so we walked to the hardware store and bought two of their last shovels. We spent the better part of the night digging our poor cars out from under the snow. I’m getting cold just thinking about it.
What a nightmare.
Now that James and I are homeowners, there’s no getting out of the yard work. (Not that James wants to, but I sure do.) It’s our job to mow, and it’s our job to shovel the sidewalks. Unlike in our last three apartments, there is no dishwasher, so the dishes actually have to get done – not just shoved in the dishwasher like in the good old days. (I’m starting to understand why people have kids – to do the chores that they don’t want to. Well played, parents.) We are responsible home owners now, so we have to think about things like what to do with all the apples from the apple tree in our yard and how to get the bats out of our attic. (Yep, we’ve got bats.)

As summer draws to an end, I can cross “mowing” off the “yard work that must be done but I kind of suck at” list. Next up is raking leaves (which I also never had to do, but that can’t be too hard… can it? You’re never too old to jump in the leaf pile, right?), followed by months of shoveling snow. I know I CAN do it; it’s just working up the willpower that can be a bit of an issue for me. Feel bad for me? I bet you don’t. James doesn’t either.

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