“Of Lawns and Felines”
It must have been the summer of my 11th or 12th year, and earlier that afternoon I had been over at my grandmother’s house trimming her front lawn with the new gas mower. My father had purchased it for her just a month or so earlier, and it was still hard to tell if Gram enjoyed owning it as much as I enjoyed using it. I liked everything about that mower. I liked the way it shone so brightly in the sunlight, I liked how easy and smooth it responded when I pulled on the starter cord, and I liked the way it rumbled when I cranked it up in preparation for some serious mowing.
There was also another thing I liked about that mower, and it was perhaps the most important thing of all. I liked just how grown up it always made me feel as I pushed it around my grandmother’s yard, kind of lost in my own little space, the noise and interruptions of the everyday world lost beneath the soothing rumble of that “mighty” motor. Yep, when I was mowing that lawn, I was my own man, and the spinning blade made certain that no one encroached upon my personal territory. Of course, if you were to ask my brothers and sisters why they stayed so far away while I was “working” that mower, I’m pretty sure their answer would have at least something to do with their love and affection for their own feet and toes, and other sundry parts. I possess pretty much all of the romanticism allotted to my family.
The particular day that I’m thinking of was slightly different than my usual lawn-mowing day. You see, ordinarily, cutting the grass was a chore that I took my time at, savoring each and every moment of it. At least that’s the way I handled it following the purchase of the new mower. Considering just how much I detested the old-fashioned push mower that was at my grandmothers before the purchase of the new one, it’s quite amazing that Gram’s house could even be seen from the front street, but with the arrival of the new equipment I had become a new man. As I’ve already said, however, on that day in question, thing’s were just slightly different than usual.
In spite of all that I’ve just said, I was pretty much a normal kid at that age (my love of lawn mowing notwithstanding), and as such, there were other things that had also caught my interest. One of the most significant of those other things was pitching for the local Community Center’s Little League Baseball team. You see, God had generously gifted me with a decent amount of speed, a strong right arm, and more energy than anyone knew what to do with. These gifts, and quite possibly others, kept me on the first-string roll-call for three years running. Even so, it was never about being the team hero or anything like that, I just really liked to play the game, and that night would be even more special since the coach had decided to entrust the Starting Pitcher slot to me. My usual designation was that of Relief Pitcher, or Shortstop on the nights that I wasn’t allowed to pitch. To actually “start” the game was pretty special, and I had been anticipating it for several days.
As it happened, even with all the excitement over the game that I had built up within me, I almost managed to forget it completely as I mowed my grandmother’s lawn that hot, Saturday afternoon. Lost in the drone of the mower engine and the enjoyment of the moment, it was only my peripheral vision of Mickey G. in his team uniform (our uniform) huffing and puffing as he ran down the street towards the park, that finally sunk through my drifting consciousness and alerted me to the lateness of the hour. The time for the game was soon to be upon us, and I still had to put the mower and the gas-can away in the garage, get to my house three blocks over and change into my uniform, and make it another three blocks to the ball diamond on time. I cannot describe to you the utter relief I felt when I made it to the Community Centre just in time to join my team-mates as they ran onto the field to begin the game.
Now the game itself went very well. We played with home-field advantage, and managed in the first three innings to claw our way into a 2-run lead, which we were then able to hold for the last three innings to emerge victorious, with a final score of 5-3. My team-mates were so happy they actually tried to lift me onto their shoulders, but I settled for shaking everybody’s hand after they almost dropped me a couple of times, first on my back and then on my butt! Other than that, however, the game should have been the cherry to top off what had basically been an alright kind of day. Unfortunately, when I headed home, I only had to arrive at the edge of our family’s property to know that this was not to be the case.
What I saw as I approached the yard was strange enough to slow me down from my normal sprightly step. I did manage to continue my approach, but much more slowly, taking the time to try and discreetly assess the situation. My Mom was up on the porch, sitting on one side of the swinging love-seat, nearest to the top of the stairs and as far as I could tell, doing her best not to make actual eye-contact with me. My oldest sister and my two oldest brothers were also on the porch, leaning back against the railings and also trying quite obviously to avoid any eye-contact with yours truly. My oldest brother did make eye-contact quite briefly, but he said nothing, nor did he smile. He only waved his head very slowly from side to side, and then went back to avoiding my eyes.
Throughout my entire assessment of the situation, and my final approach into the yard, my Father had been standing rock-steady at the bottom of the stairs, and every time I checked it was he alone who had his eyes locked on mine. Unlike the rest of them, his eyes never wavered, but like the rest of them, he also never smiled, seemingly lost in thought as he absent-mindedly fooled with something in one of his hands. As I approached him where he stood, I stopped walking altogether. Then I looked directly into his eyes, and managed with much effort to enunciate one single word,,,
“Were you at Gramma’s today?” he asked me very quietly.
“Yeah…I cut the lawn,” I said. My mind was working overtime as I tried to think what this could all be about, but nothing particular came to me, and my confusion was almost crippling in its intensity.
“When you were finished,” he went on, “did you put the mower back in the garage?”
“Yes, of course I did,” I replied with a little more certainty than on the previous question.
“And the gas, did you put the remaining gas in the garage also?”
“Yes, I did.” I answered, and now my confidence was on the rise. I didn’t know for sure yet what was going on, but at least I knew I hadn’t done anything to feel bad about. I had taken out the mower, cut the lawn, and put everything away when I was finished.
My Father then uttered his final question, and those words were mystical enough that every confidence I had just held firmly in my hands turned quietly to smoke and slipped away right through my fingers.
What he said was, “And what about the gas-cap? Did you put that on too?”
It was only then that I recognized the gas-cap in my Father’s hand, and even though I couldn’t remember for certain one way or the other whether I had put it back on the can or not, the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach told me that I had indeed forgotten that one little thing. The brain in my head, however, told me there had to be more to it than that. Surely this whole thing wasn’t about a forgotten gas-cap?
“So what else happened?” I asked.
“Well,” my Dad said, “You know how some animals will drink anti-freeze because they like the smell, and they don’t know it’s poisonous?”
“Well, Gramma’s cat Ginger apparently likes gasoline just as much, and since you didn’t take the time to cap the gas-can, she decided to drink everything in it. Gramma said Ginger went completely nuts, running around the garage like crazy, making rumbling noises in her throat, and then climbing everything in sight. Apparently, she ran outside and started climbing up the tree in the front yard, but she only made it halfway up, and then fell down on her back, twitched really bad for a while, and then just lay there. He stopped talking for a minute, and everybody looked away, like they didn’t even want to see me any more. Then my Dad looked right at me, and said, “She was…”, but he wasn’t able to finish what he wanted to say.
I had been listening to every word my Father uttered, and now that he was silent I found myself feeling guiltier than I had ever felt, as I looked at him through misty eyes. Very quietly, I tried to add the missing ending to the sentence my Father could not complete. My young voice was no more than a whisper as I said, “She was dead?”
My Father said, “No, out of gas,” and the rest of my family joined him in laughter.
They had gotten me again.