Sunday, August 18, 2013

* Cutting Grass and the Acrobatics of Life

A rope-pulled rotary, circa 1957, similar to my $88.00 Toro

For B

Are we failing our children?  The recent untimely death of one of  my students makes me wonder. 

How could a child get to be 18 and not know that no matter how bleak things are-----they will CHANGE, if you just hold on?

Maybe not for the better, but even if more bleak, sometimes the change itself provides new opportunities for adjustment.

Are we raising our children to believe life is an  unbroken lift-off  upward trajectory?

Life is more  acrobatic than that,  like jumping for a branch and holding on or swinging to the next branch until there’s a spring from the branch itself which lifts you to a new level.

 Sometimes you catch the branch; Sometimes you don’t----or fall to a lower branch or the ground and have to try again.

One of the gifts my father gave me ---- which I failed to recognize as a gift at all when it was created ----- was the knowledge that I could undertake something on my own. 

When I was 14, he brought me to the local hardware store and bought  a rotary lawnmower (this was a new invention in 1957). It was a Toro and was was so antique by today’s standards that it had a rope starter, not a retractable rope, but a rope separate from the  engine which you twined around the top of the engine to give it a pull---like the crank on a Model-T Ford.

“You go get lawns to mow in the neighborhood and pay me back for this lawnmower [it cost $88.00----an enormous sum to be 14-year-old in 1957].  When you’ve paid me back, you own the mower and can keep the profits from any lawn you mow.”

This taught me two things: You could work for money: and money could work for you.

And my father knew about that.  His first job when he got married during the Depression was as a Good Humor Man, selling icecream on a three-wheeled bike.

By the time he died in 1992, he had retired as Vice President for Industrial Relations from a holding company in Old Greenwich, Connectcitut.  He had worked himself up as a (self-taught) "Phildelphia lawyer."

My father,
Robert H. Keane
on his wedding day ,
 during The Depression

(wearing a borrowed suit)

I think my father saw the beginnings of teenage depression in me and sought a way to get me out of my funk.

That Toro lawnmower may have been my salvation.

In 1985 with two graduate degrees I found myself pumping gas for $3.25 an hour.  "Well, I can always mow lawns fir extra money," I thought.

And I did for a year ----until I got a job as an English teacher.

Are we failing to teach our kids that they have the POWER to begin  something new?

That there is hope, adventure, promise in the world they may see at the moment as bleak and hopeless?

I wonder.

I'm about to turn 69 and my favorite recreation is --- you guessed it --- mowing my lawn (two acres in Vermont).

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