My Father’s Lawn, and Mine

He mows it in crisp lines so it looks like a baseball field.

In my memory, it’s lush and cool when you return home from a walk or an errand, encircled by North Florida humidity, shaded by two maples and a pine. (That was years ago. Some of those trees have aged and died.)

My own lawn, it turns out, is almost 800 miles away, in a state I didn’t even visit until my twenties. There’s less humidity here, and more sun: the trees are few and mostly small, dogwood, rose of Sharon, one big black walnut tree leaning in from the park to cast its poison into my scrap of soil.

The man I married, though like my father in all the important ways, is not dedicated to the maintenance of a yard. The truth is, the work makes him sneeze. He muddles on for a summer, until we hire help.

(My father will never hire help.)

But I am no lawn mower, either. A not inconsiderable amount of my life as a homeowner has been spent pregnant or claimed by a small nursling. My sister has mowed her lawn; only I have never attempted it. It turns out I cannot live up to my father’s lawn standards, either.

My father says nothing about it. He is kind and generous, and when he visits, he cuts down a little tree trying to sneak roots under our foundation.

The elderly neighbor next door says plenty. She’s 79 and some weeks it takes her two days, working in the cool of the evening, to wrestle her lawn into submission. She’s been weeding and chemically treating her lawn since 1973, and you can tell, as it stands pristine and aloof beside my scraggly patch of grass, marred by melting sidewalk chalk and renegade violet plants I can’t bring myself to uproot. She points to the weeds and warns me of snakes.

My father’s lawn is a sanctuary in my memory, a great good thing from my childhood: the grass crisp and orderly as a boy’s new buzz cut, my father chore’s completed, asleep in the sunshine.

I cannot give my children this gift, as it turns out. But I can give them another, next spring, and I begin to read and make a plan: to create a scraggly yard of wildflowers.

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