Straight Lines

I was an early teen when my grandmother approached me about mowing her lawn for her. The agreement was that she would pay me a fair wage for my work as long as I made it a weekly priority. The lawn mower was self-propelled to an extent, so simply guiding the red machine would be my main duty, so I thought. I quickly learned that I wasn’t simply signing up to keep her grass cut to an acceptable level, it was more complex than that.

My grandmother was a favorite person of mine as I navigated the aforementioned struggles of my childhood years. My dad was busy working, while being a father to five children. My stepmother was earmarked as an enemy of sorts, for whatever reason. I suppose the thievery of my dad’s time via their marriage, which included two new babies, had the jealousy of an immature teen serving as a wrecking ball to my perception of our relationship. I could typically count on my grandmother’s attention whenever I visited. She was somewhat of a misunderstood woman. Looking back, like many others, I don’t even think she fully understood why she was often filled with bitterness and sadness. Life hadn’t always been kind to Dorothy. I heard family dynamics forced her to grow up fast, during the already troubled times of The Great Depression and World War Two. I suppose her rough childhood propelled into an inevitable abyss of a rough adult life as well, given so much hurt and unhealed scars were carried within. I liked her though, even when she seemed irrationally mad about others in our family, often pertaining to situations I didn’t comprehend. I understood her views to some extent- feeling like an outcast, feeling unimportant, perhaps even unnoticed. We actually formed camaraderie as two outcasts, at least in our own minds, who were taking a stand against the tyranny of not fully feeling loved or appreciated. Most days back then we probably just didn’t have anyone else to hang out with, so we spent time together, playing Yahtzee and card games on her porch each afternoon once the stock market closed. She loved watching the market, perhaps that’s a reason behind how I ended up in finance.

Grandma and me. I was probably 13. Yeah- I had Zubaz 😆

I don’t remember how she said it, but she made it clear that mowing the lawn wasn’t merely about keeping a certain height of grass. Lawn mowing was an art. Lawn mowing took delicate and careful skill. Keeping the lines straight was priority number one, followed by managing the turnarounds to ensure no evidence was left behind. One must only turnaround on the driveway or sidewalk; one mustn’t dare turnaround on the grass, to ensure only straight lines were on display. There was a methodology behind cutting grandma’s grass. I can still see her standing in her kitchen, teacup in hand, staring out the window as she judged my work. She took care of the garden, I took care of the lawn, including the occasional edging. I didn’t like edge work! I received my ten-dollar-bill once the job was complete, even if I messed up and swayed off course in a spot or two. Without fail she’d ensure I knew my final grade for each mowing expedition. I didn’t mind, as I made it out to be somewhat of a challenge. I liked making her life a bit easier. I also liked creating my chosen design within the blank canvas of her yard, determining weekly whether to cut diagonally or run parallel against the driveway or her house. Needless to say, I wanted to perform well for grandma, to appease her, and to help bring a glimmer of contentment to a lady who seemed to lack much joy.

Her neighborhood held a contest each summer, which recognized the homes with the most pristine front yards. Everything from the shrubbery, to flowers and the lawn were taken into consideration. Our task was meticulous as we chiseled her front landscape to perfection. My job was primarily the straight lines of course. I remember taking my sweet time to ensure the wheel well didn’t move an inch off course. She was very pleased, probably wondering why I didn’t always cut the yard that well. If memory serves correctly, I think she even gave me an extra five dollars, which to a fourteen-year-old meant a lot. I remember her being so proud of our results leading up to that competition. We finished third, out of at least a hundred houses, which I think gave her some satisfaction despite not receiving the glory of a 1st place ribbon.

Years went by and we drifted apart, which was mostly my doing admittedly. I went to high school, started driving, and suddenly life became more about friends and girls than spending time with grandma. I would still visit her, yet not as often, which I think made her sad. She will always have a special spot in my heart, as will those summers we spent playing cards and crafting her landscaping. I used to enjoy how much she liked me. How she laughed at my jokes and absurd questions. She used to call me her favorite grandkid, until I moved away for college. We had our season of life, which I’ll never forget.

Dorothy passed away several years after I moved to Arizona. I had a flight booked, but unfortunately, she let go prior to me being able to say goodbye. I remember being tormented with guilt because I didn’t get a chance say any final words. I have stories in life, as we all likely do, that can be chalked up as irony, or as divinity. Faith can stem from such stories. There I stood, a young man who missed out on the opportunity to say goodbye to his grandmother, with three things heavy on my mind. I wished I could’ve expressed my deep love for her as my grandmother one last time. I wished I could have spoken to her about faith in Jesus, as I had just begun my faith walk with Christ. Lastly, I wished I had told her how grateful I was for everything she did for me. The sequence of the next events moved my faith further a long, while shedding tears of relief.

I remember being at the viewing, prior to her leaving to be buried with her family in West Virginia. My older cousin walked up to me and brought up my concern about whether my grandmother had faith in Jesus. Evidently my dad had mentioned my anxiety to him. I remember him having a reassuring expression, nearly a smile, as he explained that he had the very conversation with her that I was beating myself over not having. He said not to worry, she had accepted Christ as her savior, and they had a great talk about her faith prior to her passing away. Him walking up to ensure I knew these details was an incredible relief, and for his courage to have the conversation with our grandma, I’m eternally grateful.

Following the viewing we drove back to my Dorothy’s home. I suppose we went to honor her in some way, pay additional respects, or maybe simply to feel a little closer to her. I remember the eeriness of it all, seeing all of her things and knowing she wouldn’t be back. I sat on the same couch that I sat on with her countless times while we played games and watched television over a decade prior. I strolled back toward her guest bedroom, where I had previously slept. I sat on the bed and felt a weight of grief consume my spirit. I decided to open the drawer beside the bed, as I felt a strong pull of curiosity to see what was inside. I slid the drawer open and noticed a few greeting cards sitting right on top. I remember looking at them while feeling a combination of puzzled and shocked. Cards tucked away in a drawer. Cards sent by me years prior, from many miles away. Cards that read “I thank God for you,” “I love you so much,” and “you’re the best grandma anyone could ask for.” I don’t remember the exact written words, but I do recall the finality and closure of that moment. The things I wished I was there at the end to tell her, she had received years prior. She kept those written words of love and care for herself. How “ironic” that she kept the cards that uttered the same words I would’ve said to her in person. I cannot say for sure why I suddenly felt an urge to pull open a drawer, only to discover that everything I thought I missed out on saying was already written, saved, and cherished. All I can say- that moment was divine, I firmly believe it.

Straight lines, a third-place finish, yet a pivotal relationship to a young man’s journey. I can still see her now, sipping that teacup, as she watched me mow her lawn. She taught me to take pride in my work, which creates substantially more satisfaction than simply cashing a paycheck. There is honor in staying within the lines, doing our best, and showing up when we say we will. We all make mistakes. I’ve made plenty. Yet the yard grows back, and maybe we can sway a little less next time. Here’s to my grandmother, sipping her heavenly tea while no longer suffering from a belief system telling her she’s insignificant, and no longer feeling the pain of a darkened past.

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