Watching the grass grow
I have mowed the same lawn for a quarter of a century.
I mowed it before it was even a lawn. I mowed it when it was just gestating, just beginning to form into a lawn-like creature. When it was just an unfinished project the contractor wasn’t able to do, when it consisted of weeds, mostly, and lots of rocks.
But grass is amazing. Grass is adaptive and resilient, with deep roots. I scattered some seed a couple of times and leveled it off a bit, and it became a real lawn by the second summer.
It’s not a showroom lawn, or anything special. Just grass, mostly in front of the house. And I’ve mowed it, as I said, for 25 years.
A lot happens in 25 years. And some of it in the front yard.
I remember my daughter, Beth, 4 or 5 years old, running back and forth on the grass while I sat on the front porch, grateful she didn’t require me to run with her. She would pretend to be She-Ra, Princess of Power, who was her role model back then. And may still be.
A few years later, T-ball began and so Beth and I would play catch on that front lawn, tossing the ball back and forth until it got too dark to see.
And still I mowed. And the grass grew every year, as things do.
Ten years ago, in early spring, I was mowing the front lawn when my daughter stepped out on the porch, waving at me to turn off the mower. “I got into North Texas!” she said, her mother’s alma mater, the largest school of music in the world, where you went if you were a musician and you could, and you had the chops.
I whined all that spring about change, about what it meant to have a child graduating from high school, but at that moment I stood in the middle of cut and uncut grass and knew that change and growth might be harder than I’d thought. Texas was a million miles away.
If parents of young children were foolish enough to ask me to tell them the one thing they won’t see coming until it’s come and passed, and I were foolish enough to answer honestly, I would tell them this.
There’ll plenty of firsts. First tooth, first steps, first days of school, and you will document and remember all of them.
But there will also be last things, and you won’t know it. They will come and pass, too, but you won’t be aware or understand.
One night when it gets too dark you go inside, and then a few years later you come across a dusty baseball glove in a corner of the basement and you wonder when that last game of catch was, and why you don’t remember.
I think about these things when I mow that lawn, sometimes. They just flit past my consciousness, barely scraping my awareness, these memories of balls and gloves and super-heroines.
I was mowing the lawn a few weeks ago when my phone buzzed to let me know I had a text message. It was from Cameron, my son-in-law, and it came with an audio file attached. I turned off the mower and listened.
I knew what he’d done. He was in a clinic in Austin, Texas, and he’d held his phone up to the speaker and recorded, and so there I stood, in the middle of cut and uncut grass, a goofy grin on my face as I listened to the sound of my unborn grandson’s heartbeat.
“You can’t write about this,” Beth said when she told me, months ago, about the pregnancy. She would make the announcement at the time of her choosing, not mine; she was the Princess of Power.
So I’ve known for a while, and I can finally write it.
And years from now, he’ll read it.
So, are you a little curious about what your grandfather was thinking, back before you were born? Or did your mom make you read this? Doesn’t matter. I’ll tell you anyway.
I already know you.
I don’t know your name or the details of your birth, but I already know you.
I know how I feel when I hold you for the first time.
I already know how you laugh when I make funny voices, or tickle your nose.
I know how you run to your mom or dad when you see me, because you’re shy. I know how long it will take you to stop being shy, and run to me.
I already know how you laugh, and how you cry, and how you hug me goodbye when I leave.
I already know what it’s like to read to you, to sing to you, to feed you and to watch you fall asleep.
I already know what your hair smells like when you get out of the bathtub.
I already know you, and I have already done all these things, in my imagination, as I mow the lawn that reminds me of nothing as much as your mother, when she was about your age.
Your roots are already deep, little not-yet boy. I have already loved you, I have already felt you, I have already held your hand. And I have already listened to the sound of your heart, from a million miles away.