Lawnmower Lessons

Tim Cotton

Tim Cotton | Aug 19, 2016

My knowledge of coils and spark plugs started when my cousin Ray asked me to hold the plug wire of a pull-start mower. I was rarely at Ray’s house but I was a trusting soul and I felt that he had only my best interest in mind. I held the wire, Ray pulled the rope. It hurt. I learned. I became part of the rope-pulling hit squad as we duped other neighborhood kids into holding the wire. Soon, we ran out of victims and we all moved on to other pursuits, none of which included using the mower for its intended purpose.

"Now, just hold this, right here. No, of course it won't hurt!" (The Bakken Museum Photo. Flickr/CC 2.0)

Prior to Google and the inter-web, many lessons were quickly learned because of the pain that accompanied them. Little did I know, Ray saved me another painful lesson because his demonstration allowed me to later avoid falling for the “go pee on the electric fence trick.”  With every negative comes a positive.

The lessons I learned about spark were deviously translated into a way to avoid the mundane task of mowing my lawn. It was the summer of 1973 and I was nine.

The more you know, the more plausible your excuses!

It was June and I wanted to go brook trout fishing. Dad had gone to work and asked that I mow the grass. All I could think about were brook trout and Tina. I don’t remember her last name but I suspect it has changed at least once by now so it wouldn’t matter anyway. Tina had shared with me that there was a stream where we could catch some trout. I wanted to go fishing but for some reason, deep within my soul, I really wanted to go with Tina.

I devised a plan in which I would disconnect the spark plug wire some distance from the porch where I knew my mother would make her appearance. The tall grass and correct angle would keep the disconnected wire a secret between myself and the Hereford bull that lived in the adjacent pasture. He was always staring at me and he seemed trustworthy. I also knew that he would be gone later in the fall and he surely would not tell anyone after being wrapped in freezer paper.

Look out Tim, these ladies are wise to your game. (Jacobs & Brichford Cheese Photo)

Edith Carol is my mother, not a woman inclined to know much about mechanical things. My rudimentary knowledge of suck, bang, blow was just enough to show her that if the lawnmower had no bang, I could blow off mowing the lawn. The job that sucked could be delayed until later in the week.

I began to methodically pull the starter rope while my mother watched out the window. I presented my “frustrated-face” knowing full well that I needed to make the sale to E. Carol. She was no fool, but my knowledge was power (or lack thereof) in relation to the spark plug. If I played my cards right, I would not have to tell her a lie. I could create a one act play that allowed me to tell a story. I was no Thornton Wilder but I could pull off a story about a lawnmower that would not start. Very few lines were needed. The fewer the better--E. Carol could smell a lie when told by her children. All I could smell is raw gasoline as the little lawnmower that couldn’t, didn’t.

Like the lies told by children, raw gasoline has a distinctive odor. (Rhan Vintage Photo)

I said things like, “Must be flooded!” and “Maybe it will start later?” in order to build a case for making my way down the Upper Ridge Road to a brook that Tina had pointed out on our way home from school.

Excessive rope pulling turned to flailing, and after several loud sighs that were directed toward the screen door,  Edith Carol entered, porch-right. I let the rope snap back and the black rubber T-handle smacked the recoil cover in a satisfying bang. I stood up straight and said, “It won’t start.” I had not lied. Edith Carol asked why. I said, “I will try it again later.” I should have continued showing a frustrated face or shrugged more but she bought it. She walked back into the house, unimpressed but also unconcerned. I went fishing with Tina.

Tina and I only went fishing together on one occasion. I had no idea, at that time, why trout fishing with a girl was so much fun. We caught nothing. Tina never called me again. Shocking, I know.  (I think she liked me for my collection of night crawlers.) I hope she has since recovered from the devastating loss.

Hard workers? Or have they just not figured out the old lawnmower wire trick yet? (By Chris Nystrom from Austin, U.S.A. - Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

My scheme worked well on a couple more occasions during that summer. I employed the trickery and deceit when Laura, from Cape Elizabeth, came to visit her aunt at an old farmhouse about a mile up the road. Laura had braids and, fortunately, she also had a brother. I say “fortunately” because I needed her brother to be the shill in my scheme to hang out with Laura. I don’t recall his name. It did not matter. If I was going to create an illusion to Edith Carol that the lawnmower did not start, I had no problem hanging out in a barn with Laura’s brother while I waited for her to come out and get to know the man who had avoided mowing, yet again.

Showing up on the Western Flyer-branded stingray bicycle (incidentally coming from the same Western Auto where the intentionally non-operational Wizard mower had been purchased) was definitely the way to make an entrance. Putting the kickstand down while still in motion was only one of the many moves that I believed would lead Laura and me to a life filled with love and whatever else came with it. I really had no idea how the relationship would progress. Hopefully if we both worked, we could pay someone else to mow our lawn

Thick and sturdy hemp rope and an old hand-hewn wooden seat was the vehicle that would allow me to display my airborne skills of derring-do. She paid no attention to my masterful swinging. But she was still lovely. I went to visit the brother, but I stayed for the braids. I never saw her again either.

The real reason these young ladies never called our intrepid blogger? They were busy mowing.

It should be noted that I always ended up mowing the lawn. I don’t recall being asked about why that one day it would run and another day it would refuse to start. Maybe my parents knew what I was up to, but I don’t think so. If they had found out, I believe my intentional and pre-planned procrastination would have sooner or later led to a plethora of punishment and perdition in perpetuity.

The takeaway? A rudimentary knowledge of the internal combustion engine can be an asset when trying to meet your future significant other. You can employ any method you want to meet that special someone, but if there is no spark, sooner or later you will still be mowing the lawn.

Sooner or later, you will still end up mowing the lawn.

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