A lot of things in my life wouldn’t be possible without my mom. She raised me as a single mom, with extensive assistance from my grandma. She worked her way up from waitressing on roller skates as a teen to our lean food-stamp years of my infancy, from her first office job to her return to college, earning her Finance degree at age 50. She’s now three weeks away from retirement and looking forward to beginning the next chapter in her life, wherever it may lead her.
But some things are not her strong suit. Lawn care is one of them.
She’s never been a homeowner. She lived in the same townhouse from when I was five months old until two years ago, when she downsized to her current apartment. Each living space had two things in common: both were in the same complex, and they had identical, unmanageable backyard patios.
She hasn’t had to mow a lawn for over forty years. Maybe never in her life, for all I know. Maintenance men and/or outsourced lawn care specialists are one of the perks of rental life. In exchange, you pay a monthly living bill for the rest of your life. There’s no thirty-year milestone when your apartment becomes permanently paid-up until death. As someone who’s a homeowner who hates mowing, I kinda miss the whole no-mowing aspect of renting.
That only covers the lawn out front, or beyond the backyard. Inside these walls is another story.
Back in the day, Grandma turned our original patio into a lush garden teeming with strawberries, tomatoes, string beans, watermelons and more each year. I have vivid memories of helping shuck the beans, of dunking fresh strawberries in sugar, of turning up my nose at the occasional green tomato, and of marveling at the two or three fully mature watermelons we ever produced.
Mom never inherited that green thumb, never found harmony with Mother Nature or commiserated much with Mother Earth. After Grandma moved into the nursing home in 1998, the weeds and other boring plants muscled in and took over the turf.
The rental management policy on backyard care has varied over the years. Some administrations put the onus on the renter. Every so often, maintenance will offer to prune and mow the backyard for an additional fee. For a couple of lucky summers, some enterprising teen neighbor took care of it for her until he presumably moved on to better opportunities.
Most of the time, she keeps her drapes shut, refuses to look outside, forgets the patio is there, and lets the jungle flourish until either her conscience bests her, the rental office sends her a notice of dismay, or shirtless British lords begin riding herds of wildebeest through it. The uppermost photo represents the worst-case scenario last June, when nothing was said or done for the longest time. Vines crept everywhere, up the walls and across the concrete as if trying to draw their own pentagram.
And if you look really closely at that photo, you can see one nasty vine with no sense of boundaries staging a subtle home invasion behind the never-opened curtain. That’s not a reflection; that’s a monster weed calling from inside the house.
This time, the flora had gone too far. And if no one else can or will help her…that’s where I come in. Her only child.
If she remembers to call me, or I remember to ask her about it, and when I have/make time to show up, it’s me and my implements versus towering greenery above my waist and often reaching my shoulder. My wife will help if it fits into her schedule, but I usually don’t ask because in my mind she already goes above and beyond on a daily basis. It’s not easy. It’s kind of disgusting. Sometimes it takes two trips. Sometimes within the dark underneath, I’ll find sports balls that belong to the neighbor kids, or discarded food wrappers carelessly tossed over her fence by an uncaring community. On that perilous visit last year, the leaves and stalks were so dense that I burned out the motor on my weed-whacker. Fine by me — its demise gave me the perfect excuse to splurge on something bigger, better, faster, and more option-packed than last year’s model. “More power!” may be an easy punchline, but it’s no joke. Not when you’re faced with lifeforms that, if left unchecked, could someday grow up into angry crabapple-hurling trees.
The process is messy and plasters soggy plant remains all over whatever I’m wearing, but it works. This one-man wrecking crew gets the job done. Nothing in her yard gets out with all its health points intact. Not even the pretty flowers, if any dared coexist in that former foliage.
This battlefield is a long way from the one potted palm I’ve been nurturing at the office over the past year. It’s still messy. It’s still not pretty. But the rental office doesn’t care about looks or aesthetics. They want it short. They get it short. And we’re all good with going back to ignoring it for the next two to twelve months until the cycle repeats itself, and the war on Mother Earth’s tiny, inconvenient infestation begins all over again.
Mother’s Day is this weekend. And just in time, Mom has asked me if I could take a whack at the yard again. She says it’s not too tall yet. If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard that one before, maybe I’d have a bag of quarters tempting enough to lure that wayward helpful teen back into the game for one last job. And then she and I could both have a happy Mother’s Day.